Murdoch Empire

05.15.12

Rebekah Brooks Charged in Phone-Hacking Scandal

The former Queen of Fleet Street was charged with ‘perverting the course of justice.’ Peter Jukes on how Murdoch’s protégé became the first person to be charged in the hacking scandal.

UPDATE:

Appearing with her husband, Rebekah Brooks addressed news cameras in London this evening to make her promised statement on the charges.

“Whilst I have always respected the criminal justice system, I have to question whether this decision has been made on a proper, impartial assessment of the evidence,” she said. “Although I understand the need for a thorough investigation, I am baffled by the decision to charge me. […] I cannot express my anger enough that those close to me have unfairly been dragged into this.”

Brooks went on to criticize the decision as “weak and unjust,” saying that, as the details of the case emerge, “people will see today as an expensive sideshow, and a waste of public money.”

In his own remarks, Brooks’ husband, Charlie, was equally defiant. “I feel today is an attempt to use me and others as scapegoats, the effect of which is to ratchet up the pressure on my wife, who I also believe is the subject of a witch hunt,” he said. “There are 172 police officers—about the equivalent of eight murder squads—working on this. So it doesn't surprise me that the pressure is on to prosecute, no matter how weak the cases will be.”

He went on to suggest that his wife could not receive a fair trial in Britain, an argument that has already been advanced by her attorney. “I have grave doubts that my wife will ever get a fair trial, given the volume of biased commentary which she has been subject to,” he said.

In separate statements earlier today, Brooks’ personal assistant, Cheryl Carter, and Mark Hanna, the head of security at News International, also stressed their innocence. "I have no doubt that ultimately justice will prevail and I will be totally exonerated," Hanna said.

Rebekah Brooks, the former News International chief executive and close lieutenant of Rupert Murdoch, has been charged with perverting the course of justice, Britain's Crown Prosecution Service announced this morning. Her husband, the racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks, will be charged as well, along with four others.

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Sang Tan / AP Photo

The chief prosecutor, Alison Levitt, said all six suspects will face  perverting-the-course-of-justice charges, which are related to Scotland Yard's phone-hacking investigation. Brooks faces three separate charges, and her husband two. The others being charged are Brooks's personal assistant, Cheryl Carter; New International’s head of the security, Mark Hanna; Brooks’s chauffeur, Paul Edwards; and Daryl Josling, a security consultant. One other security consultant facing charges was not named.

The charges relate to the two weeks between July 6 and 19 of last year, during the height of the hacking scandal and Brooks’s subsequent resignation. The suspects are alleged to have conspired to have "concealed material" from police and to have removed boxes of material from News International's archives. The five named suspects are also alleged to have conspired to delete documents on computers and other electronic equipment. All these actions were related to the police investigations into phone-hacking and payment of public officials, Levitt said.

Perverting the course of justice is a common-law criminal offense in Britain that is seen as potentially more severe than phone hacking or payments to public officials, the two primary allegations rocking the British wing of Murdoch's news empire. It carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, but according to an analysis by the legal affairs correspondent at the Guardian, the average sentence is 10 months. The last time a high-profile figure was imprisoned on such charges was in 2001, when millionaire novelist and former Conservative Party chairman Jeffrey Archer received four years in prison, relating to a 1987 libel case. If found guilty, the suspects are likely to be jailed immediately.

Brooks and her husband were arrested in dawn raids in March and were due to answer bail this morning. Both will appear before Westminister magistrates in the near future prior to their trails. Brooks scooped the story herself by condemning the charges via a statement issued just minutes before the CPS announced them. "We deplore this weak and unjust decision," she said in a joint statement with her husband. The statement said the couple would comment further later in the day, following what they called the "unprecedented posturing of the CPS."

In her remarks, Levitt predicted a "realistic prospect of conviction."

Nearly 50 people have been arrested in Scotland Yard's current investigations into phone hacking and alleged corruption of officials. Brooks and the others are the first to be charged, and hers has been the highest-profile case.

The March arrest was Brooks's second. She was also arrested in July, just two days after her resignation from News International, on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications—phone hacking—and on the allegations payments to police officers. There were two new arrests this morning on the latter issue.

An intimate friend of the Murdoch family and one of Rupert Murdoch’s most trusted lieutenants, Brooks, 43, was editor of the now-defunct tabloid News of the World when reporters from the paper hacked into the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler. Brooks was also editor of the country's bestselling daily tabloid, The Sun, which is the focal part of Scotland Yard's investigation into what the police officer leading the investigation has called "a pattern of corrupt payments" to a network of public officials.

Perverting the course of justice is a common-law criminal offense in Britain that is seen as potentially more severe than phone hacking or payments to public officials, the two primary allegations rocking the British wing of Murdoch's news empire. It carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

At her appearance before the Leveson Inquiry last week, Brooks was forced to answer questions about her close friendship with a series of prime ministers, including Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and particularly Prime Minister David Cameron, a neighbor in his Oxfordshire constituency, who was in weekly contact until the hacking scandal broke. Under questioning, she famously revealed that Cameron had signed some of his texts to her “LOL”—which he thought meant "lots of love," until she corrected him.

The trial of Brooks and her husband, a former school chum of Cameron's, is unlikely to reach court for another year, and it could continue for several months after that—possibly all the way until Cameron's reelection bid, which is scheduled for 2015.