Jurors in the hacking trial were urged to ignore the "downright cruelty and vitriol" surrounding the case when they consider verdicts on Rebekah Brooks.

In his closing speech, the former News International chief executive's lawyer Jonathan Laidlaw QC made a plea for them to "focus on the evidence" alone.

He invited the jury to imagine viewing the trial as a loved one in the public gallery.

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"From your position as a loved one you will be all too painfully aware the case has been heard against the backdrop of significant attention from the media.

"Opinions have been expressed with views running from criticism to comment, through inaccuracy and bias, to downright cruelty and vitriol.

"From up there you would worry about the possible impact on the jury. Can anybody be independent enough, strong enough, to avoid being influenced?"

The lawyer said the prosecution had been based on "theory first, evidence later".

He said: "Every time one theory has been contradicted, you have seen the prosecution change its case - twisting and turning to try and find any way to make themselves right.

"We have seen police officers mislead in order to protect the ultimate prosecution theory in this case - Rebekah Brooks must be guilty no matter what."

The evidence showed only one story published from hacking during Brooks's time at the helm of the tabloid, he said. That was the Milly Dowler story which was published when she was on holiday in Dubai.

Brooks, 45, of Churchill, Oxfordshire, along with her six co-defendants, denies all the charges against her.

Mr Laidlaw pointed out data which showed Brooks had no contact with anyone at the NotW before Mulcaire was tasked to hack murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler's voicemails in 2002 while she was in Dubai.

He told jurors: "There is simply no evidence at all that anybody at the NotW disturbed her holiday about anything prior to April 11."

The trial continues.