Blair offered to help Brooks over parliament appearance, court hears

LONDON (REUTERS) - Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair offered to help Rebekah Brooks ahead of her high-profile appearance in front of a parliamentary committee as the phone hacking scandal erupted in 2011, a court heard on Wednesday.

Brooks, the former chief executive of News Corp's British arm News International, was called to appear before the committee on the same day as Mr Rupert Murdoch and his son James appeared to answer questions over the scandal that was then shaking Mr Murdoch's company.

Brooks was being vilified at the time in the rest of the British media after the closure of the News of the World tabloid in the face of public revulsion at the scale of phone hacking.

Facing questions on the stand of her hacking trial for the 13th day, Ms Brooks was read e-mails that she had exchanged with Mr Blair showing the former Labour leader offering to help her prepare for the committee hearing in the House of Commons.

Mr Blair had told her: "actually I may be of some help in the Commons".

"Definitely," prosecutor Andrew Edis said Brooks had replied. "Properly terrified. Police are behaving so badly."

According to the e-mail, Mr Blair, prime minister between 1997 and 2007, told Brooks that everyone panics in these kind of situations and that she should call him when her meeting with police had finished on the Sunday.

Brooks had been due to be interviewed by police on July 17, 2011, but she had in fact been arrested at that meeting and it was not made clear in court whether she later spoke to Mr Blair ahead of her hearing.

The court heard that former Labour minister Lord Mandelson had also been lined up to help Brooks prepare for the Commons appearance.

Brooks, the ex-editor of two of Mr Murdoch's titles, is on trial accused of conspiracy to hack phones, authorising illegal payments to public officials and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. She denies all charges.

She was summoned to appear before parliament in July 2011 as the scandal rattled both Mr Murdoch's firm and the wider British establishment. The lengthy hearing was broadcast live on television and was one of the biggest news stories of that year.

Mr Rupert Murdoch described the hearing as the most humble day of his life, shortly before he was hit in the face with a foam pie by a protester.

The jury sitting at the Old Bailey in the hacking trial has already heard how Mr Blair offered to act as an unofficial adviser to Mr Rupert Murdoch over the scandal, suggesting the firm follow the same steps he took to address public anger over the Iraq war.

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