12 - MAI 11 - Aud. Rebekah Brooks
MR JAY: Your full name, please, Mrs Brooks?
A. Rebekah Mary Brooks.
Q. May I ask you, please, to look at the large file in front of you and identify the two witness statements you have provided us with. The first is under tab 1 a statement dated 14 October of last year, and secondly under tab 2, a statement dated 2 May of this year. The principal focus today will be on the second statement, but are you content to confirm the truth of both statements?
Q. I'll attempt a timeline of your career, Mrs Brooks....
Q. Didn't you ever examine the motives or thought processes of politicians, why they were wanting to get close to you, and just, even as a piece of self-indulgence, pondered to yourself: "Well, what's going on here? Why are they trying to get close to me?"
A. I think I always examined the ulterior motivates of politicians, but I thought it was pretty obvious that they wanted to get to -- I don't know a politician that would turn down a meeting with a senior journalist from any broadcast or any newspaper. So it wasn't – it didn't need a lot of thinking that politicians wanted to get access to journalists. I mean, that's been the same case for decades, as you -- as you pointed out in your opening statement in this module.
Q. But you were in possession of the megaphone which would be of utility to them, and which, if they had access to, logically and self-evidently, might have influence over your readership. That's the truth, isn't it?
A. I think the politicians were very keen to put their case to me and my team at the Sun because of the large readership of the Sun.
Q. Did you regard it as part of your role -- or, if you didn't, perhaps it was an accidental by-product of your role as editor in particular -- to build up friendships with politicians?
A. I think some friendships did occur, but I think it's important to put it in the context of friendships. I mean, we all have lots of different friendships. Old friends, new friends, work colleagues, associates. And, you know, through the decade that I was a national newspaper editor and the years I was CEO and the ten years I was a journalist, some friendships were made. But I don't think I ever forgot I was a journalist and I don't think they ever forgot they were a politician.
Q. Did you not understand that you did have a degree of personal power over politicians?
A. No. Again, I just didn't see it like that. I saw my role as editor of the Sun as a very responsible one and I enjoyed my job and every part of that job, but particularly, as I've said in my witness statement, I enjoyed campaigns and I enjoyed bridging a gap between public opinion and public policy, taking on concerns of the readers. So I don't accept it in the power terms that you keep describing it as.
Q. But your real interest is people, isn't it, Mr Brooks? You're a very empathetic person. You understand how human beings think and feel, don't you?
A. I do like people, yes, and journalists, as a main, do try and be empathetic, otherwise no one would tell them anything.
Q. But you understand the potential of, if I can put it in this way, personal alchemy, how you with get people to do or might get people to do what you want, and indeed what they are trying to do with you. Don't you get any of that?
A. I'm not sure quite what you mean.
Q. I'm not suggest anything sinister here. I'm talking about really the power of human empathy. Some people are empathetic and it's completely lost on them. But it's not lost on you, is it?
A. Well, I hope to be empathetic in life to people, yes.
Q. I just wonder whether you sense or sensed – because we're talking about the past now -- the effect you might have had on politicians. Some of them may even have been afraid of you. Is that true?
A. I literally -- like I say, I don't see politicians as these sort of easily scared people. Like I say, most of them are pretty strong, ambitious and highly motivated,so ...
Q. Let's see if we can just take one case study and see whether there's any validity in that case study.
A. Okay, right.
Q. You remember the McCanns serialisation case?
A. Yes, I do.
Q. Actually, we have Dr McCann's evidence in relation to this in the bundle at page 57 under tab 6. Do you have that there? We're working from the transcript of the evidence this Inquiry received on 23 November 2011.
A. Right, yes.
Q. If you look at page 57, line 11, the question I asked was: "You talk about a meeting with Rebekah Brooks …" Are you on the right page?
A. They're not numbered in that way.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: They are, actually.
A. 57, is it? At the bottom?
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: No, it says 15 at the bottom, but each page has four pages on it.
A. Yes, right. I have it, sorry. Thank you, sir. Yes?
MR JAY: The question was: "You talk about a meeting with Rebekah Brooks which led to a review of your case, a formal review. Just to assist us a little bit with that, can you recall when that was?"
Dr McCann's answer was: "I think it's probably worth just elaborating a little bit because it's quite a complex decision-making process. News International actually bid for the rights to the book along with HarperCollins, and one of their pitches was the fact that they would serialise the book across all their titles. We were somewhat horrified at the prospect of that, given the way we had been treated in the past and the deal was actually done with the publishers, Transworld, that excluded serialisation. "Now, we were subsequently approached by News International and Associated to serialise the book, and after much deliberation, we had a couple of meetings with the general manager and -- Will Lewis and Rebekah Brooks and others, and what swung the decisionto serialise was News International committed to backing the campaign and the search for Madeleine." Pausing there, there was going to be serialisation in both the Sunday Times and the Sun, I believe. Do you
A. I do.
Q. I think this is the year 2010, by which time you were chief executive officer, weren't you?
A. That's correct.
Q. What was the price that you paid for the serialisation?
Can you remember?
A. I can't remember, actually. I -- it's hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Q. A million, we've been told.
A. No, it wasn't. It wasn't a million. Half a million, maybe. I can't remember. I mean, I can -- there are ways to find out, but I'm not sure it was a million.
Q. Okay. I paraphrase the rest of what Dr McCann said, because he couldn't take this issue much further. Your intervention was successful in securing a review of the case. Do you understand that?
A. I -- you asked if it was successful and he says it was, yes.
Q. Yes. Can you remember anything about that intervention?
A. Actually, to just go back, the reason I was involved as chief executive was because it concerned two newspapers, the Sunday Times and the Sun. So if you like, I did the deal with HarperCollins from the corporate point of view, and then left it to the two editors, John Witherow and Dominic Mohan, to decide the different approaches. I had always got on very well with Dr McCann and Kate McCann throughout their incredible traumatic time, and in fact I think they, if asked, would be very
positive about the Sun, actually, and in this case, I thought that Dominic Mohan's idea to run the campaign for this review of Madeleine's case by the Home Secretary was the right thing for the Sun to do, and I think the Sunday Times did the book. So my intervention was at that point, as in: was the original discussion with Dr McCann. I don't think I spoke to Theresa May directly, but I am pretty sure that Dominic Mohan may have done.
Q. Let's see whether we can agree or disagree on what may have happened. When you were discussing the arrangements with the McCanns, you asked if there was anything more they wanted. Do you recall that?
A. Maybe, yes.
Q. And Dr Gerry McCann said that he wanted a UK police review of the case. Do you remember him saying?
A. That I do, yes.
Q. Do you remember your answer being: "Is that all?"
A. I may have said it slightly more politely: "Is there anything else before we conclude this meeting?", but – I don't particularly remember saying that, but maybe I did, yes.
Q. I'm not suggesting to you that it was impolite; I'm just summarising the gist of what you said.
A. Maybe, yes. We had been going through a list of issues that Dr McCann and Kate McCann wanted to be assured of before we went forward with the serialisation, so possibly.
Q. Did you then take the matter up with Downing Street direct?
Q. Did you not tell Downing Street that the Sun was going to demand a review and the Prime Minister should agree to the request because the Sun had supported him at the last election?
A. No, in fact I didn't speak to Downing Street or the Home Secretary about this, but I know that Dominic Mohan or Tom Newton Dunn will have spoken to them.
Q. Pardon me?
A. They would have spoken directly to either Number 10 or the Home Office. I'm not sure. You'll have to ask them. Probably the Home Office, I would have thought.
Q. That the Sun wanted an immediate result and that a letter would be posted all over the front page from the McCanns to the Prime Minister asking for a review, unless Downing Street agreed. Did that happen?
A. I think that's how the Sun launched the campaign from memory. It was with a letter, yes.
Q. The Home Secretary was told that if she agreed to the review, the page 1 letter would not run. Do you remember that?
A. No, I don't.
Q. But as the Secretary of State did not respond in time, you did publish the letter on the front page. Do you remember that?
A. I do remember the Sun kicking off the campaign with a letter, yes.
Q. But you don't believe there was any conversation or indeed threat to the Secretary of State? Is that right?
A. I'm pretty sure there would have not been a threat, but you'll have to -- we'll have to ask Dominic Mohan, because, like I said, my involvement was to discuss the campaign in the continued search for Madeleine with the McCanns and to do the deal on the book and to -- they – because I had done so many campaigns in the past, they wanted my opinion, but after that I left it to both
editors to execute the campaign.
Q. What I've been told is that you then intervened personally, Mrs Brooks. You told Number 10 that unless the Prime Minister ordered the review by the Metropolitan Police, the Sun would put the Home Secretary, Theresa May, on the front page every day
until the Sun's demands were met. Is that true or not?
Q. Is any part of that true?
A. I didn't speak to Number 10 or the Home Office about the McCanns until, I think, after the campaign had been won, and then it came up in a conversation that I had – and I don't even think directly with the Prime Minister. I think it was one of his team.
Q. We can find out in due course whether this is true or not, but I must repeat it to you. It is said that you directly intervened with the Prime Minister and warned him that unless there was a review by the Metropolitan Police, the Sun would put the Home Secretary, Theresa May, on the front page every day until the Sun's demands were met. Is that true or not?
A. I did not say to the Prime Minister: "I will put Theresa May on the front page of the Sun every day unless you give me a review." I did not say that. If I'd had any conversations with Number 10 directly, they wouldn't have been particularly about that, but they would have been, if I'd been having a conversation, that the Sun was leading a major campaign with a very strong letter on page 1 to start the campaign, and anyone who knew me would have talked to me -- any politician would have talked to me about it. But I did not say that. I don't know who said I said that, but we're going back to sources again.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: Could we ask this: were you part of a strategy that involved your paper putting pressure on the government with this sort of implied or express threat?
A. I was certainly part of a strategy to launch the campaign in order to get the review for the McCanns, yes. But I think the word "threat", sir, is -- is too strong.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: Well, give me another word then for "threat", could you?
A. Persuade them?
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: Persuasion. All right.
MR JAY: In your own words, Mrs Brooks, define for us what the strategy was.
A. So the McCanns were deeply upset that there hadn't been a review. It seemed incredibly unfair that they hadn't
got this review. You only have to read their book to understand the trauma that they go through. So we said,
"We'll join forces with you", and Dominic Mohan and his team went away and constructed a campaign. I cannot
remember when the idea of the letter came up. It may have even been my idea to do the letter. I can't
remember. But the campaign was launched in order to try and convince the government or convince the Home
Secretary that a review would be the right thing to do.
Q. Do you know how it came about that the review was ordered?
A. No, I -- I can't remember, I'm sorry. Such a lot has happened since then, but --
Q. You must have been told, Mrs Brooks?
A. I remember Dominic Mohan telling me that the review was going ahead.
Q. That the Sun had won, in other words?
A. He didn't put it in those terms, but he said – well, actually, I think he said, "The McCanns have won."
Q. The Sun headline on 14 May, front page, was that as a result of its campaign, the Prime Minister was "opening the Maddie files". Do you remember that one?
A. I remember the Sun winning the campaign, the McCanns winning the campaign, yes.
Q. So this is not, you say, a case study then in the exercise of power by you? I'm not suggesting that the end result was right or wrong. Many would say it was right, that there should be a review. I'm just saying the means by which you achieved the objective --
A. But it could be said that a review of Madeleine McCann's case, with everything that had gone on, was the right thing to do. We presented the issue. We supported the McCanns in their determination to get a review. It wasn't new. They'd tried before, before the election, and the election had come into -- and the Sun -- and the Home Secretary clearly thought it was a good idea too, because I'm pretty sure there wasn't -- it wasn't a long campaign. It wasn't like Sarah's Law over ten years. I think it was very short.
Q. Yes, it didn't take very long because the government yielded to your pressure, didn't they? It took all of about a day.
A. Or perhaps they were convinced by our argument.
Q. There are always two sides to the coin here, that of course everybody would say, on one level, money should be spent, but the campaign to date, I'm told, has cost £2 million and some would say maybe that money might have gone somewhere else. It's never clearcut, is it?
A. What, the Madeleine McCann campaign?
Q. No, the operation which started up the review, which was called Operation Grange, I understand.
A. Right, sorry.
Q. Perhaps you would say all you were doing was reflecting the views of your readers. Is that it?
A. I think in that case, it was an issue that we brought to the readers, that we explained to the readers that a review hadn't taken place and that -- we presented the McCanns' story as in the reason why they wanted the review. I think that absolutely chimed with our readership and the campaign was started with a very heartfelt letter and the politicians were convinced our argument, or the McCanns' argument, was correct.
Q. It also chimes with the commercial interests of your papers because this sells copy, doesn't it?
A. Well, campaigns can sell newspapers. I think the serialisation of the book actually was good for
circulation for the Sunday Times. I'm not sure how well the campaign was in circulation terms, but they would be a matter of record. It may have been.
Q. Can I deal, finally before lunch, with one other example just to get your evidence on this. Mr Dominic Grieve at one point was the Shadow Home Secretary, wasn't he?
A. Yes, he was.
Q. Do you remember a conversation with him over dinner which you discussed the Human Rights Act?
A. I do, yes.
Q. To cut to the quick, his position was in favour of the Act and your position was not, if one wanted to distill it into one sentence; is that correct?
A. I don't think that's quite right. Similar. His position was that it was -- it was a shadow cabinet dinner, and his position was that David Cameron's promise or, shall we say, the Tory Party's promise to repeal the HRA and replace it with a British bill of rights, I think was the plan at the time, was not – should not be so easily promised to papers like the Sun and the Mail and the Telegraph, and so it wasn't that he was pro it or against it. He was just making the legal point that it was very difficult to do.
Q. Were you impressed with him after that conversation?
A. Well, as it turned out, he was absolutely right, but at the time -- it was more his colleagues around the table, because I think they'd put out a policy announcement that it was going to be in the manifesto they would repeal the HRA. David Cameron had written for the Sun explaining this. And so the dinner conversation was quite heated, as he was the only one at the table saying, "Actually ..." I admired him standing up to his shadow colleagues like that, and as I say, in the end he's turned out to be correct.
Q. Didn't you tell Mr Cameron, after that conversation you had with Mr Grieve, words to this effect: "You can't have someone like that as Home Secretary. He won't appeal on our readers. Move him"? And that's indeed what happened.
A. No, I did not tell Mr Cameron to move him. What – the conversation -- as I say, it was a very heated conversation, borne out by -- his colleagues were trying to almost silence him at the table because he was, in effect, saying one of the promises the Conservatives had made to the electorate was they were going to repeal – and it was almost the opposite way around, that they were concerned that his view was not to be taken seriously, and as it turned out, he was entirely correct.
Q. Did you give any advice to Mr Cameron as to whether Mr Grieve might move on?
A. No, no. In fact, after that conversation -- sorry, it is important to remember Mr Cameron wasn't at that dinner.
Q. That's right. Did you indicate to Mr Cameron in any way what your view was about Mr Grieve?
A. No. In fact, Mr Osborne and Mr Cameron did the opposite to me, where they were at pains to explain that Mr Grieve's view, which has now proved to be entirely correct, was absolutely not their view and they were going to repeal the HRA and replace it with a British bill of rights, and that Mr Grieve was mistaken.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: Just before we break, could I take you back to this issue that we've bounced around several times, which is who is leading who.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: Do you think that at least in part, what you were in fact doing, to use your own words, was bringing issues to your readers as opposed merely to responding to your readers' interests?
A. I think that's correct, yes.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: I'm sure we'll come back to it this afternoon, but I would like your view, which you can reflect upon, on this: everybody's entitled to be a friend of whomsoever they want to be a friend. That's part of life. But can you understand why it might be a matter of public concern that a very close relationship between journalists and politicians might create subtle pressures on the press, who have the megaphone, and on the politicians, who have the policy decisions?
A. Yes, I can understand that.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: All right. 2 o'clock.
(The luncheon adjournment)