LONDON : Former British prime minister Tony Blair advised a key executive in Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper empire days before she was arrested over phone hacking at the News of the World, a court heard on Wednesday.
Blair also offered to be an “unofficial” advisor to Murdoch and his son James at the height of the scandal which led to the closure of the tabloid in July 2011.
An email written by Rebekah Brooks, then chief executive of Murdoch’s British newspaper group, News International, described an hour-long phone call with Blair in which he allegedly told her “it will pass. Tough up”.
The email was shown to the jury at the end of almost four months of prosecution arguments in the phone-hacking trial, in which Brooks, one of seven defendants, is expected to take the stand later this week.
The 45-year-old denies several charges of conspiring to illegally access voicemails, bribing public officials and trying to hide evidence from police.
Brooks’ email was addressed to James Murdoch, then chairman of News International, and was dated July 11, 2011, the day after the News of the World published its final edition.
Writing in note form, Brooks described how Blair allegedly told her: “Keep strong and definitely sleeping pills. Need to have clear heads and remember no rash short-term solutions as they only give you long-term headaches.”
On July 15, Brooks resigned and on July 17, she was arrested for the first time on suspicion of phone hacking.
Brooks wrote that Blair said he was “available to you (James Murdoch), KRM (Rupert Murdoch) and me as an unofficial adviser but needs to be between us. He is sending more notes later”.
Blair also apparently suggested that Brooks set up an independent inquiry to investigate senior News of the World managers, which could provide them with some cover.
Brooks wrote that Blair told her to “publish part one of the report at same time as the police closes its inquiry and clear you and accept shortcomings and new solutions and process and part two when any trials are over”.
The former Labour leader, now a Middle East peace envoy, is godfather to one of Rupert Murdoch’s children, Grace, and has acknowledged a close friendship with Brooks.
In evidence to the Leveson inquiry into British press standards in May 2012, Blair was asked if he offered Brooks support during the News of the World crisis.
He replied: “I’m somebody who doesn’t believe in being a fairweather friend, and certainly I said I was very sorry for what had happened to her... I have been or seen people go through these situations and I know what it’s like.”
The case for the defence is expected to begin on Thursday, with Brooks first among the defendants to take the stand.
Brooks denies conspiring to hack phones while she edited the News of the World between 2000 and 2003, specifically conspiring to illegally access the voicemails of missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler, who was later found murdered.
The allegation that Dowler was targeted proved the final straw in a slow drip of hacking revelations, prompting Murdoch to summarily close the 168-year-old Sunday tabloid.
Among the other defendants are Andy Coulson, Brooks’ former lover and deputy at the News of the World, who replaced her as editor in 2003. He denies phone hacking and paying public officials for information.
Former managing editor Stuart Kuttner is also charged with hacking, while former royal editor Clive Goodman is charged over payments to public officials.
Brooks’ husband Charlie, former PA Cheryl Carter and former head of security Mark Hanna are also charged with helping her hide evidence in the dying days of the News of the World.