Rebekah Brooks denies hacking coverup, says she thought it was limited to a rogue reporter

LONDON – Former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks on Wednesday denied covering up the wide extent of phone hacking at the newspaper, but acknowledged paying a PR guru 1 million pounds “in part” to stop allegations against the tabloid’s editors coming out in court.

Brooks testified that as chief executive of Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper division she brokered the seven-figure settlement with publicist Max Clifford, partly to stop a lawsuit over the alleged hacking of his phone. The newspaper feared private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, who was jailed in 2007 for illegal eavesdropping, would appear in court and name journalists who had allegedly instructed him to hack phones.

Brooks, who was cross-examined in the witness box at a London court, said the deal was to “protect the company” because no one knew what Mulcaire might say. She said Clifford also agreed to supply celebrity stories to the newspaper.

Brooks said the News of the World’s claim — repeated over several years — that hacking had been carried out only by Mulcaire and royal reporter Clive Goodman “was believed to be true at the time.” She acknowledged, however, that police had told her as early as 2006 that there could be more than 100 hacking victims.

The “rogue reporter” claim dissolved in 2011 when the scale of the newspaper’s eavesdropping began to emerge.

Brooks and six other defendants deny charges of phone hacking and related wrongdoing.

Brooks says she did not know phone hacking was taking place when she edited the News of the World between 2000 and 2003. She then edited its sister newspaper, The Sun, until 2009.

Mulcaire began working for the News of the World in 2001 and was paid almost 100,000 pounds a year. Brooks said she had assumed Mulcaire undertook legal investigative work, but never asked colleagues specifically what he did.

Prosecution lawyer Andrew Edis asked if she had ever overtly instructed journalists: “Do not hack phones.”

“No, that phrase I never used,” she said.