Hacking trial: From golden couple to co-defendants

Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson at a party in 2004 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Editors-in-arms: Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson at a party in 2004

At the heart of the hacking trial was the former golden couple of tabloid journalism, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson.

They started out as colleagues, becoming lovers and "best friends".

They ended up as co-defendants, sitting alongside each other behind the glass screen of the dock in the Old Bailey - the central figures in a mammoth trial.

Now Coulson has been found guilty of conspiring to hack phones when editor of News of the World, while Mrs Brooks has been cleared of all charges.

Born in the same year, at opposite ends of the country, both have described how they loved journalism.

Both came to it as teenagers. Both spent almost all their careers at Rupert Murdoch's News International.

Mrs Brooks and Coulson spent a decade rising to the top - simultaneously - in the uber-competitive world of tabloid newspapers. Celebrity kiss-and-tells and political exposes helped propel them to the peak of their profession.

But throughout most of that time they were having a secret affair. It was sporadic, between 1998 and early 2007 when Coulson quit as editor of the News of the World. For the majority of that time both were married.

By 2004, Coulson had been named editor of the Sunday tabloid - then Britain's biggest-selling newspaper. Mrs Brooks, his boss for three years, was now his rival of sorts because she had become editor of the Sun.

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Image caption Andy Coulson and his wife, Eloise Patrick

The pair's personal relationship was at times deeply intimate. A letter Mrs Brooks wrote to Coulson, but never sent, revealed how serious it was. The police found it on a computer at her home.

"The fact is you are my very best friend. I tell you everything," she wrote in February 2004. "I confide in you. I seek your advice. I love you, care about you, worry about you."

The note had been typed just after Coulson temporarily broke off the affair. Mrs Brooks said she had drunk several glasses of wine beforehand. He later described the affair as "wrong" and said it should not have happened.

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Image caption Netball star: Rebekah Brooks at school (centre)

The schoolgirl Rebekah Wade, as she was then, was familiar with being at the centre of things. An only child, she said she was just eight years old when she told her mother she wanted to be a journalist.

In her mid-teens she swept the floor and made tea at a local paper in her home town of Warrington. She had no formal training in journalism. Twenty years later she was editor of the News of the World.

Two veteran newspaper journalists who worked with Mrs Brooks have told the BBC of their immense surprise that she rose as high as she did.

Charles Rae, a former royal editor at the Sun, met her in her first newspaper job as a PA at the Warrington office of a now defunct newspaper.

"She was very articulate, very friendly," he said. "If someone had told me then that Rebekah was going to end up as chief executive at News International, I would have thought they were crazy. I would have rung up the Priory Clinic for them."

Paul Connew was deputy editor at the News of the World when she joined the paper's magazine.

"One now-retired senior director of News Corp who I knew well once said to me that Rebekah was a first-class schmoozer and a Third World-quality journalist," he said.

Mrs Brooks was a campaigning editor. She courted politicians and they turned to her and her papers. With her first husband, the EastEnders actor and New Labour supporter Ross Kemp, she was a guest at Tony Blair's Downing Street.

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Image caption From Tony Blair to Rebekah Brooks: Texts sent amid crisis

It was the beginning of a lasting friendship. Almost a decade later she was talking to the former prime minister, seeking his advice, the day after the scandal-hit paper was shut down.

She said he advised her to set up a "Hutton-style" inquiry into what went wrong. He also told her to "tough up" and take sleeping pills to help deal with the stress.

In the days leading up to her arrest she was texting him, again seeking advice. The messages frequently included kisses. He signed off "Tx".

His successor, Gordon Brown, hosted Mrs Brooks at Downing Street. There was a friendship with his wife Sarah, in spite of a falling out after Mrs Brooks gave the go-ahead for the Sun to run a controversial story about one of their sons having a serious medical condition.

David Cameron and Mrs Brooks were also friends, part of the so-called Chipping Norton set, named after the area in Oxfordshire where they both have homes. And they had something else in common: Coulson.

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Image caption Resigning again: Andy Coulson leaves Downing Street

In January 2011, as the hacking scandal began gathering pace, he quit his job as director of communications at Downing Street. It was the second time he had left a job over the hacking affair.

As Mr Cameron's communications chief, he had spent the previous four years helping to get the Tories into power.

The party had snapped him up within months of him quitting the News of the World when one of his top reporters and a private investigator were convicted of phone hacking.

Seen by some as the Essex rough to counter Cameron's Eton smooth, Coulson was given the job after an initial approach from the now-Chancellor George Osborne.

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We now know that Coulson knew about the hacking of David Blunkett in 2004, long before he took that job with the Conservatives.

A year before that, he had revealed knowledge of something else - paying police officers for information.

Appearing in front of MPs at a select committee hearing in 2003, Mrs Brooks admitted paying officers for information. Coulson, sitting alongside her, said it was done "within the law".


A former senior Conservative press office source told me it was "odd" that when Coulson was being recruited, nobody seemed to question him about what the editors had told MPs about paying police for information. The source said it was possible that what Coulson brought to the party operation outweighed any concerns.

Another senior Tory adviser told me they thought the party had hit the big time by hiring Coulson. He was a "huge asset" in the build-up to the 2010 general election.

Mr Cameron said he hired Coulson because he thought he deserved a second chance.

I'm told now that David Cameron feels "let down" by Coulson - but the chancellor, George Osborne, the man who made the initial approach, will be "more pragmatic" about it.

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Image caption The former couple sat in the Old Bailey dock throughout the trial

By the time the final edition of the News of the World was published, Coulson had been arrested. Mrs Brooks was soon to receive her own request to attend questioning.

They were both questioned at Lewisham police station in south London.

Both protested their innocence but would end up side by side for months in an Old Bailey courtroom.

Former colleagues and former lovers, forced to explain as a jury listened.

Mrs Brooks' husband, Charlie, also sat in the dock and Coulson's wife, in the public gallery, looked on.