by: Jenny Gross
Ms. Brooks’s acquittal related to a single charge of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office. She still faces four other charges alleging that she conspired to illegally intercept voice-mail messages on cellphones, authorized illegal payments to public officials and plotted to hinder a subsequent police investigation.
The acquittal is a victory for Ms. Brooks, but she still faces hurdles. Prosecutors allege that in addition to conspiring to hack phones, she sanctioned payments of around £40,000 ($65,000) to a U.K. Ministry of Defense official. They say she conspired with her husband and her longtime secretary to hide material from police in the days around her arrest.
The charges against Ms. Brooks stem from a wide-ranging probe of alleged phone hacking centered on News Corp’s now-closed News of the World tabloid. She and six other defendants have pleaded not guilty to all counts.
The surprise acquittal comes as Ms. Brooks takes the stand for the first time in the monthslong trial. Prosecutors rested their case earlier this week, and defense attorneys started to lay out their case Thursday.
Speaking from the witness box, Ms. Brooks said she had no knowledge that phone hacking occurred under her watch at the News of the World and that at the time she had never heard the name of a private investigator who later admitted to intercepting voice mails.
She also spoke about the complexity of running a weekly paper that published about 200 articles in each edition.
“It’s impossible for an editor to know every source of every story that’s in the paper,” Ms. Brooks said.
The charge on which she was acquitted relates to payments the Sun tabloid newspaper allegedly made for a photograph of Prince William in a bikini. Ms. Brooks was editor of the tabloid at the time.
Judge John Saunders said he wasn’t prepared to explain in detail the reason for his decision but that there was considerable uncertainty about where the photo actually came from.
“I have decided there is no case for Mrs. Brooks to answer” on that specific count, he said.
Ms. Brooks’s lawyer, in his opening speech, told the jurors they must carefully consider the charges against Ms. Brooks and not be distracted by any background associations with the case.
“She is not being tried because she was the editor of a tabloid newspaper,” said Jonathan Laidlaw , Ms. Brooks’s lawyer. “Neither is she on trial for having worked for Rupert Murdoch ‘s company or for having worked her way up literally from the bottom through that organization.”
The long-simmering phone-hacking scandal erupted in July 2011 after a newspaper report showed reporters at the News of the World tabloid, once one of the most popular Sunday papers in Britain, had hacked the voice mail of a missing teenager, who was later found dead. There was widespread public outrage, prompting News Corp to close the tabloid. Ms. Brooks, who was editor of the News of the World when the teenage girl’s phone was hacked, was arrested several days later.
News Corp, which owns The Wall Street Journal, declined to comment.
During her testimony Thursday, Ms. Brooks laid out the fiendishly competitive world of British tabloid journalism. She described to jurors the lengths to which she and her colleagues would go to beat their rivals with exclusive reports.
She recounted how in 1995 the News of the World spent a quarter of a million dollars tracking down Divine Brown , shortly after the Los Angeles prostitute was arrested with Hollywood star Hugh Grant . “It sounds so silly now, but it was important,” Ms. Brooks said.
Ms. Brooks’s defense lawyer also asked her about weekly phone calls that Mr. Murdoch, News Corp’s executive chairman, made to the editor at the News of the World.
“He would ask what’s going on, that was always his opening gambit,” she said. “It was up to you to tell him what was going on in the paper and the news.”