press trust of india
London, 1 March: Rebekah Brooks, former chief executive of Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper empire in the UK, has admitted paying a British official for a story on Saddam Hussein’s threat to swamp the country with anthrax poison in 1998.
The 45-year-old former editor of the Sun and now-defunct News of the World tabloids told the jury at her trial on
phone-hacking charges in London that the payment was sanctioned for reports that the former Iraqi dictator threatened to swamp Britain with anthrax and that she had refused requests by MI5 and MI6 not to run the story.
During her sixth day in the witness box at the Old Bailey court yesterday, she said someone who was “clearly” a public official phoned the Sun to say the “secret service were covering up a plot by Saddam Hussein to bring in anthrax to this country”.
Brooks recalled how in trying to corroborate the story, the security services were alerted to the Sun’s investigation and she was summoned to Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s office.
“I remember representatives from MI5, MI6, GCHQ, Downing Street and lawyers who may have been representing some of the parties. First of all by its very nature, it (the meeting) confirmed what the public official was telling us was true,” she said.
Brooks, who was deputy editor of the Sun at the time, was in charge of the paper as the editor was away.
She was asked not to proceed with the story but decided it was in the public interest and went ahead, splashing with the headline “Saddam anthrax in our duty frees”.
The source of the story was eventually identified after an internal inquiry as a chief petty officer and he was subsequently prosecuted.
Brooks was being questioned by her defence counsel in relation to a charge that she conspired to cause misconduct in public office by sanctioning payments of 38,000 pounds to public officials between 2004 and 2012.
In the course of her evidence, she also declared her “embarrassment” at not paying a public official for the British MPs’ expenses scandal when she was editor of the Sun.
The expose had led to a major shake-up of the British parliament’s expense claims system and embarrassed a number of politicians in the way they handled their accounts.