07.08.11

The Woman Behind the Tabloid

From dressing as a housekeeper to steal a rival’s story to paying former lovers of Princess Diana, former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks is among those who were famous for unorthodox methods, as Piers Morgan’s memoir "The Insider" reveals.

The cellphone-hacking scandal that brought down News of the World may not have been the only bad behavior that took place on Rebekah Brooks’ watch. Brooks, who was in charge of the tabloid when many of the alleged hacking incidents took place, has been allowed to keep her position as chief executive of News International, some say at the expense of the nearly 170-year old paper and its 200 employees. However, this may not have been the first time that News of the World used unorthodox methods to retrieve information. In his memoir, The Insider, Piers Morgan recalled the extreme methods that Brooks and other former colleagues would resort to in order to get news and information.

In 1994, Morgan worked with Brooks at News of the World. In July of that year, the two received a tip that James Hewitt was ready to confess to having carried on a lengthy love affair with Princess Diana. At the time, Hewitt and Diana had only admitted to being friends. Morgan and Brooks arranged to meet with Hewitt at the Carlton Towers Hotel to discuss a tell-all interview. Morgan says that they were ready to pay him “five hundred thousand” for an interview, as long as he admitted that he “regularly slept with the future king’s wife.” The huge sum of money was not to be their only method of getting a scoop, however. Morgan wrote, “Rebekah booked a suite and sent over a little ‘recce’ team in the morning to kit it out with secret tape devices in various flowerpots and cupboards. If all else fails we can always expose him later for even thinking about ratting on Di.”

Months later, Jonathan Dimbleby’s book about Prince Charles was due to be published with shocking admissions from the heir to the throne himself. The Sunday Times, another Rupert Murdoch paper, was set to run excerpts from the book and was keeping the content locked in its offices. Morgan asked John Witherow, the editor, if he could have a sneak peek of the issue, but Witherow declined. In order to get an advance look at the issue, Morgan sent Rebekah Brooks, “to do her worst.” Brooks dressed up as one of the building’s cleaners, walked into the Sunday Times offices, and then hid in the bathroom for hours. “As the Sunday Times started clicking off the press, Rebekah emerged from her hideaway, ran over, helped herself to a copy, then raced back to News of the World, with her hat falling off to reveal that she may not be who they thought she was. “I had a copy of the Sunday Times before Witherow did,” Morgan recalled.

Brooks dressed up as one of the building’s cleaners, walked into the Sunday Times offices, and then hid in the bathroom for hours.

In 2003, both Morgan and Brooks were summoned to give testimony to the Culture and Media Select Committee about the standards of tabloid journalism. Morgan felt the Committee was ridiculous and said nothing at all incriminating. However, he recalled that, “Rebekah excelled herself by virtually admitting she’s been illegally paying police for information. I called her to thank her for dropping the tabloid baton at the last minute. She apologized: ‘That’s why I should never be seen or heard in public.' ”