FORMER News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks told the Old Bailey yesterday she received death threats after it emerged that murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked.
But, giving evidence for an eighth day, Brooks said she was also sent messages of support as she found herself the “central figure” of the story, including one from former prime minister Tony Blair.
Under questioning from her lawyer Jonathan Laidlaw QC, Brooks was asked about the events of July 2011, when the Guardian broke the “horrific” story.
Brooks, who was by that time chief executive of News International, told jurors that she and her colleagues were horrified by the allegations and desperately tried to find out if they were true.
She said that as the story made headlines around the world, “we were completely at a loss and all over the place, really, trying to find out what was true and what wasn’t”.
Jurors heard a text sent from Mr Blair to Brooks, on 5 July 2011, read: “Let me know if there’s anything I can help you with. Thinking of you. I’ve been through things like this.”
Brooks replied: “Thank you, I know what’s it’s like. GB [Gordon Brown] pals getting their own back. Rupert and James [Murdoch] have been brilliant.
“Hopefully even in this climate the truth will out.”
Referring to the abusive messages she was sent, Brooks, 45, told jurors: “The allegations were, I think, met with universal revulsion and I was the central figure of that.”
Brooks, of Churchill, Oxfordshire, denies conspiring to hack phones, conspiring to commit misconduct in public office and conspiring to cover up evidence to pervert the course of justice.
All seven defendants in the trial deny the charges.
Jurors were also read messages of support that Brooks received from former Mirror editor Piers Morgan. “When it rains, it f***ing pours. Grit your teeth and stay strong,” Morgan wrote.
Jurors heard that Brooks replied: “Can’t believe any reporter would do that. Must have been [Glenn] Mulcaire [a private investigator].”
Morgan then wrote back: “If it wasn’t a staffer you’ve got to get it out there fast. Lots of fury building on internet.”
There was laughter in the courtroom as Brooks said that Morgan was an “avid tweeter”.
“I was going to say twit,” she added.
Brooks said it was believed that whoever had hacked Milly’s phone was not a staff member at the paper.
“Obviously, the accusation of Milly Dowler’s phone in itself was terrible, but it was the deletion of the messages, the false hope, that was rightly sparking fury,” she said.
The allegation that voicemails had been deleted, and therefore given Milly’s parents the impression she could still be alive, was later found to be untrue.
Jurors heard that in a message to a friend, Brooks said she felt there was a “witch-hunt” against her.
She said that she and senior colleagues had first discussed closing the News of the World in June 2011 due to the mounting number of civil liability cases brought against it by celebrities.
The final edition of the paper was published just days after the Milly story broke, on 10 July. Brooks went on to resign on 15 July. She told jurors: “I felt it was the right thing to do.”
The trial continues.