Rebekah Brooks’s former personal assistant denied that her “beloved boss” had paid for flights to Australia for herself and her family as a reward for disposing of evidence that might incriminate the ex-News International executive over phone-hacking.
Prosecutors say Cheryl Carter, 49, removed seven boxes of notebooks belonging to Brooks and destroyed them as a phone-hacking scandal engulfed the News of the World in July 2011.
Brooks and Carter are on trial accused of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Brooks also faces charges of conspiracy to illegally intercept voicemails on mobile phones and authorising illegal payments to public officials. They and five others on trial deny all charges.
Carter’s lawyer Trevor Burke told the Old Bailey court that Brooks and her PA were “like sisters”, having worked together for years as Brooks rose to become editor of the Sun and News of the World and then News International’s CEO.
“They adored each other. They had been shoulder-to-shoulder for 16 years,” Mr Burke told the jury. “You can cross-examine Cheryl Carter for three weeks if you like and she will not say a bad word about Rebekah Brooks.”
Mr Burke told the jury the two co-accused “stand or fall together”. “If you convict one, you are obliged to convict the other,” he said.
On 8 July, 2011 – the day after it was announced that the News of the World would close amid revelations its journalists had hacked the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler – Carter withdrew seven boxes from the company archives that were marked as containing Brooks’s notebooks from 1995 to 2007.
Mr Burke said the reason to remove them was “absolutely not” to do with the paper’s closure, but because she said she believed they needed to withdraw material from the archive before it was moved to a new location.
Carter, who wrote a weekly article about beauty for the Sun, told the court that the boxes held few of Brooks’s possessions and mainly contained scrapbooks with cuttings of her articles and other magazine beauty features.
The court heard Carter received a £17,000 pay rise, taking her salary to £66,000 a year, when she followed Brooks to her new CEO position, even though she had no formal secretarial training.
She also received £7,000 for her weekly Sun articles, although she told the court she did not want a lot of money because she felt “privileged” to be writing for the paper.
Carter also told the court her family had planned to emigrate to Australia but she had kept this from Brooks until they had both left the company at the end of July 2011. After she broke the news, Brooks agreed to pay the cost of the flights.
Asked by Mr Burke if this was a reward for disposing of the boxes, she replied: “I can say that it wasn’t. She just wanted to thank me for 16 or 17 years I worked for her.”
The trial continues.