FORMER News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks knew how to listen to celebrities’ voicemails and feared former lover Andy Coulson would not be able to “survive” the hacking scandal, a close friend of David Cameron told the Old Bailey.
Former journalist-turned-recruitment headhunter Dom Loehnis was at the Prime Minister’s birthday dinner at his Chequers country retreat in October 2010 when he asked table neighbour Brooks about the investigation, which had already convicted private investigator Glenn Mulcaire and News of the World journalist Clive Goodman.
Mr Loehnis said he spoke to Brooks to inquire whether she thought ex-NotW editor Coulson - Mr Cameron’s spin doctor at the time of the party - could survive, given the fact the story “didn’t seem to be going away”, particularly in the wake of recent revelations the illegal practice was more widespread than first stated.
Recalling the “brief exchange” Mr Loehnis, who had known Brooks before the party, told the court: “(Brooks said) simply that when people had worked out how to do it, who knew how many people could learn how to do it?
“It could be fairly frequent.”
Mr Loehnis said he could not remember the conversation exactly, but said: “I got the impression it was something that when you discover you can do it, you do it because you can.”
Mr Loehnis said Brooks, sat next to him on the table, said that there was “one default code” on mobile phones - factory settings - that “nobody changed”.
He recalled: “She said... If you rang someone’s voicemail you were asked for a code. Some people rang it and got hold of voicemails.”
Mr Loehnis said he briefly quizzed Brooks on the future of Coulson, who had been brought on board by Mr Cameron as director of communications before the general election that year. Coulson was not at the party, Mr Loehnis told the court.
He said: “She (Brooks) felt the story wouldn’t go away and the reason for that was that at a certain point in time people had discovered you could get into mobile voicemails.
“At that point in time, when people had worked it out, who knew how many people could have done it?
“It wasn’t an easy story to close down.”
Mr Loehnis, who delivered an ode to the PM at the party in the form of a poem, added: “She said that she wasn’t sure that he (Coulson) could survive.”
Jonathan Laidlaw QC, defending Brooks, said his client remembered Mr Loehnis was “concerned as a friend” of the Prime Minister whether the sort of publicity attracted by the phone-hacking scandal “might be a problem for the Conservative Party”.
Mr Loehnis agreed.
Mr Laidlaw added: “Her recollection is something like this: ‘Do you (Brooks) think this phone hacking is going to be a problem for the Tories because of Andy?’.”
The witness replied: “Something like that. ‘Could he survive?’ was my recollection. There was a lot of pressure on him (Coulson).”
Mr Laidlaw said the reason Brooks agreed there might be pressure on the party was because “the spokesman had become the story”.
Defending, he said: “She (Brooks) might have used the phrase ‘It gives the opposition a stick with which to beat the Tories’.”
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