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Rebekah Brooks was a “nightmare” newspaper editor who would unleash foul-mouthed volleys at her executives, the Sun’s news chief told a court today.
Chris Pharo, Assistant Editor (News), told the Old Bailey that the Sun was a harsh workplace where complaints were not tolerated.
If he had suggested ending the payments system that led to £9,000 being paid to a police officer he “would have been fired,” he told the court.
Painting an ugly picture of working for Mrs Brooks, Mr Pharo said: “She could occasionally be fine but more often than not she was nothing more than a nightmare.”
Entering the witness box for the first time, he recalled: “You would frequently receive anything up to 20 abusive emails starting at about 7.30am, when she had the papers delivered to her home.
He went on: "Occasionally you had an explosion in conference and she could sulk for days over a missed story."
Mr Pharo, 46, remembered the day when he frankly admitted to conference in the paper’s Wapping HQ that his news list (a list of proposed stories for the next day’s paper) was "terrible.”
"She got all of the pieces of paper, screwed them into a ball and threw them at my face,” he told the jury, adding that Mrs Brooks shouted: “If you can't put together a fucking news list in the next hour you can fuck off.”
She then stormed out of the glass-walled conference room, Mr Pharo said.
"She slammed the door so hard she broke the door handle."
He said that Mrs Brooks then emailed Sun staff asking: "Have any of you got a story because my idiot news editor can't find any."
In answer to questions from his lawyer Nigel Rumfitt QC, Mr Pharo said Mrs Brooks had been furious when the News Of The World had a front-page story about the Home Secretary David Blunkett.
He claimed the News of the World had obtained the scoop by hacking her phone. Yet that did not stop her ire.
According to Mr Pharo, Mrs Brooks told him and his fellow news editors: "If you fucking cunts aren't capable of matching them [News of the World executives] I'll sack the lot of you and replace you with them."
He said that he had asked Mrs Brooks whether the Sun could buy the MPs’ expenses scandal data for £60,000, Mrs Brooks replied: “Darling, I’ve just spent quarter of a million on Jordan’s autobiography.”
Mr Pharo, who began his working life on a local paper in Berkshire, suggested that he had experienced the harsh end of the Sun earlier in his career when he had turned down the chance to become New York correspondent, after his partner Kirsty became pregnant.
He had received an irate phone call from Neil Wallis, the Sun’s deputy editor, who had recommended him for the role.
"He [Wallis] was incandescent with rage,” Mr Pharo told the court.
"He said I was a fucking idiot, that I had fucked my life up. It was a job for a single man. He was furious because he had put my name forward for the job and basically I had embarrassed him.”
According to Mr Pharo, the matter did not end there, but in the photo casebook feature bearing the name of the Sun’s agony aunt.
Mr Pharo told the court court: "A few days after the conversation I heard Kirsty scream from the kitchen and the subject that week of ‘Dear Deirdre's Casebook’ was a young executive had ruined his life by turning down a job in New York because his conniving girlfriend had got herself deliberately pregnant."
"I later discovered Neil had torn out the one planned and got an emergency one shot in order to humiliate me over the whole decision."
Another time, Mr Pharo said, he had been offered the night editor's role, working between 5pm and 3pm, but when he asked the managing editor Graham Dudman for time to think it over, “He told me I had 45 minutes."
Addressing the payments system, Mr Pharo, 46, said it was “ripe for abuse”: there was suspicion in the office that reporters were pocketing the money meant for sources.
But he said the cash system had been a feature of the Sun for years and if he had suggested replacing it to Mrs Brooks, “I think she would have fired me.”
Mr Pharo, 46, believed reporters routinely exaggerated their sources.
“Police contacts” could embrace anyone who had information about a “police-related” stories – including pub landlords and news agencies.
Journalists also reacted very badly if they had requests for payments trimmed – one, he said, had thrown a chair across the room at him.
But it was not Mr Pharo’s job to “police the newsroom.”
He himself could not authorise the payment of “a single penny piece.”
Instead, his job was to “value” stories and then pass them up the managerial line for approval.
The editor was “ultimately responsible” for payments.
Mr Pharo and Mr Pyatt deny aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office.
Their trial continues tomorrow, when Mr Pharo will be cross-examined by Julian Christopher QC, for the Crown.
See openDemocracyUK's full series on the Sun trials here.
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