by a Newsnet reporter
In her appearance before the House of Commons select committee on culture, media and sport today, former News International executive Rebekah Brooks denied all knowledge of payments to private investigators, saying that this was the responsibility of the managing editor of the paper. The former editor in chief of the News of the World also strongly denied that she authorised any payments to police officers, claiming before the committee that in her experience police officers assisted the paper “free of charge”.
Ms Brooks is currently on police bail after being arrested on Sunday to answer allegations of conspiring to intercept communications and corruption. Ms Brooks denies any wrongdoing.
Committee members were keen to question Ms Brooks over her statement to the committee in 2003 that News of the World had made payments to police officers. Ms Brooks asserted that at no point had she ever “knowingly sanctioned a payment to a police officer”.
Ms Brooks attempted to clarify this statement by claiming that her previous remarks had referred to a “widely held belief” and was not an acknowledgement that she knew they were a “widespread practice”.
She said: “You’ve had various crime editors from Fleet Street discussing in the past payments have been made to police officers. I was referring to that.”
Ms Brooks insisted that she only discovered that murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s voicemails had been hacked by reporters for her paper when the news broke just two weeks ago.
“The idea that Milly Dowler’s phone was accessed by someone being paid for by the News of the World, or worse being authorised by someone at the News of the World, is as abhorrent to me as it is to everyone else.
“I don’t know anyone in their right mind who would authorise, no, sanction, approval, anyone listening to the voicemails of Milly Dowler in those circumstances.
“I just don’t know anyone who would think it was the right and proper thing to do at this time or at any time.”
Ms Brooks told the committee that she was prepared to “take responsibility” if it was proven that Milly Dowler’s voicemail had been hacked by a journalist she managed.
Questioned by committee members on whether senior employees of the paper had lied to her, Ms Brooks declined to reply due to the on-going criminal investigation.
She said: “Unfortunately, because of the criminal procedure, I’m not sure that it’s possible to infer guilt until those criminal procedures have taken place.”