IT WAS at 9.48pm on a Friday, just 24 hours before the News of the World went ‘off stone’ for the September 22, 2002, edition that Mrs Brooks stepped in with her criminal instructions.
The paper had spent a febrile week trying to trace Mr Barrymore, now 65. He’d been the main witness in the inquest of a partygoer who’d died in the pool at his home.
Mystery surrounded the death of 31-year-old butcher Mr Lubbock 14 months earlier.
The plan was simple: find Michael Barrymore on holiday and snatch a picture of him swimming. It’d be the nuclear image, Brooks hoped, that would prove he misled an inquest.
He’d been among a group to come back to Mr Barrymore’s bungalow in Roydon, Essex, after a night out at the Millennium Club in nearby Harlow.
Mr Lubbock’s body was later found in the pool. He had been drinking heavily and taking ecstasy and cocaine. He was later found to have unexplained injuries to his anus.
The inquest was inconclusive, recording an open verdict. It heard Mr Barrymore and two other guests had found Mr Lubbock prone in the pool. Mr Barrymore was unable to jump in to help, as he couldn’t swim.
In addition, it heard Mr Barrymore, a major national star and one of television’s most irrepressible characters, had left the scene before police arrived, having left details behind about where he could be found.
The man best known for bouncing around in a suit on the Strike It Lucky stage, firing off his famous catchphrase ‘Awight!’, was suddenly the unwilling focus of the worst kind of whodunit.
He was the very definition of fair game for the big tabloid beasts.
And there were no more fearsome than Rebekah Brooks’s News of the World.
After the inquest, weary of unremitting Press scrutiny, Mr Barrymore decided to take a break from the UK.
He left the country, but almost no one knew where.
Mrs Brooks, however, was going to make sure her readers did indeed read all about it.
The Editor who would go on to become Chief Executive of Rupert Murdoch’s UK newspaper operation had a simple plan: find Michael Barrymore on holiday and snatch a picture of him swimming. It’d be the nuclear image, she hoped, that would prove he misled an inquest.
No matter that the man really couldn’t swim – the paper needed that shot, whatever the cost.
So with the clock ticking toward deadline and the News of the World’s finest coming up short, Mrs Brooks took matters into her own hands, typing eight words that sparked a major episode of criminal newsgathering: “blag it out of ba (British Airways) and air Mauritius…”
She sent it to Phil Taylor – the paper’s so-called ‘Barrymore expert’ behind a string of front pages about the star – and Geoff Webster, her Head of Pictures.
Mr Webster immediately set about fulfilling Mrs Brooks’ wishes, turning to the paper’s Head of Investigations, Greg Miskiw – a self-confessed phone hacker – who in turn put the News of the World’s £100,000-a-year in-house data thief Glenn Mulcaire on the case
Byline Investigations has spoken to Mr Miskiw, who confirms what happened next, and says Mrs Brooks was well aware of the methods the paper used, something she denied under oath at the Old Bailey.
He said: “I didn’t know that the instruction to Webster came from Rebekah, but that’s what happened. I remember being asked by Webster to find where Barrymore was.”
The evidence is significant because Mr Miskiw’s testimony, along with Mrs Brooks’ email, is the first time that a link has been established between the News of The World Editor and Glenn Mulcaire.