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Rebekah Brooks denies knowledge of phone hacking at News of the World

By Laura Smith-Spark and Richard Allen Greene, CNN
February 25, 2014 -- Updated 1411 GMT (2211 HKT)
Former News of the World chief executive Rebekah Brooks arrives at court in London on February 20, 2014.
Former News of the World chief executive Rebekah Brooks arrives at court in London on February 20, 2014.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rebekah Brooks says she never sanctioned use of phone hacking at News of the World
  • Brooks says she only learned paper had accessed voice mail of a missing schoolgirl in 2011
  • Outrage over the hacking of Milly Dowler's voice mail led to the paper being closed down
  • Brooks and six other defendants deny the charges against them

London (CNN) -- Former newspaper chief Rebekah Brooks denied Tuesday ever having approved the practice of phone hacking while editor of the former UK tabloid News of the World.

Brooks, the former chief executive of Rupert Murdoch's UK newspaper arm, News International, said she was aware of the possibility that some voice mails could be accessed by the late 1990s.

But asked by her defense lawyer if she was ever asked to sanction the practice while editor of News of the World, from 2000 to 2003, she said: "No."

Brooks and six others face charges including conspiracy to intercept the voice mails of high-profile figures in Britain. All seven deny wrongdoing.

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Questioning focused Tuesday on the News of the World's actions in the case of 13-year-old Milly Dowler, a British schoolgirl who went missing and was later found murdered in 2002.

The News of the World was closed down in July 2011 amid public outrage over claims that its employees hacked the young girl's voice mail messages while she was missing.

Brooks said the first time she heard that the newspaper had accessed Dowler's voice mails was on July 4, 2011 -- and that she was shocked.

She was on vacation during the week that News of the World hacked Dowler's phone, she testified, and it was not brought to her attention. Her then-deputy, Andy Coulson, was editing the paper that week, she said.

Coulson, who became editor of News of the World after Brooks and is a former Downing Street communications director under Prime Minister David Cameron, is on trial along with Brooks.

Brooks: Use of investigators 'pretty normal'

Brooks also said she was never aware during her editorship of a £92,000 contract for private investigation services between News of the World and the firm run by private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, Euro Research International.

The contract, dating from September 2001, was signed by Greg Miskiw for News of the World.

Asked what she might have thought of the contract had she had seen it, Brooks replied: "The use of searching agents, private detectives at that time in Fleet Street was pretty normal."

Mulcaire was convicted of phone hacking in 2006, and has already pleaded guilty to hacking charges in the current case. Miskiw has also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to intercept voice mail.

Asked about phone hacking, Brooks she didn't think "anybody knew it was illegal... No desk editor, no journalist ever came to me and said, 'we're working on such and such story and we need to access their voice mails.'"

She told the court she would have felt it was "a serious breach of somebody's privacy, especially if you did not have an overwhelming public interest," and of the newspaper industry's code of conduct.

Last week, Brooks was cleared of one of two charges of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office, at the judge's direction.

She still faces two charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, one of conspiracy to hack voice mail messages and the remaining charge of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.

READ: Rebekah Brooks quizzed about Coulson relationship at UK phone hacking trial

READ: Report: Kate Middleton's phone hacked, court told

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