The phone-hacking trial that is being heard at the Old Bailey entered a new stage on Thursday with the seven defence witnesses commencing their testimonies. Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of News of the World (NOW) was the first of the seven defendents who have been charged to give her evidence.

All seven have denied the charges against them.

Ms. Brooks, 45, was cleared on one count of conspiracy by the judges, namely, the allegation that she asked a reporter of the tabloid Sun to pay a serving member of the armed forces £4000 for a photograph of Prince William in a bikini, at a fancy dress party at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

However, she still faces four charges, two of conspiracy to subvert the course of justice, one of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office, and one of conspiracy to hack voicemail messages. She denies them all.

British newspapers on Thursday carried front-page news stories of how former Prime Minister Tony Blair advised her to handle the crisis.

The court heard that Ms. Brooks, in an email to James Murdoch, the then News International executive chairman, wrote that Mr. Blair urged her to set up a ‘Hutton style inquiry’ into phone-hacking. The reference was to the inquiry set up to inquire into the death of weapons adviser Dr. David Kelly.

Mr. Blair and other officials in his government were exonerated in the Hutton report of allegations that they had exaggerated the threat of nuclear weapons in Iraq.

Mr. Blair, the court heard, had offered to be an “unofficial adviser” to her and other senior News International figures after the story on phone-hacking broke. He reportedly urged her to “tough up”, and use sleeping pills if needed.

In her evidence on Thursday, Ms. Brooks traced her journey in journalism, from the short-lived publication Post to NOW, which she joined in 1989 first as a features researcher in the Sunday Magazine section.

She spoke of an early scoop – that of getting footballer Paul Gascoigne to speak about domestic violence in exchange for £50,000 -£80,000.

A jury of nine women and three men is hearing the trial. It will examine the evidence on whether NOW reporters, on orders from their seniors, hacked the phones of celebrities and politicians between 2000 and 2006.

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