The most high-profile News Corp. executive arrested so far in the phone-hacking and police-bribes scandal that engulfed Rupert Murdoch’s News International, Rebekah Brooks, has pleaded not guilty to phone-hacking charges and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
Brooks appeared with 12 other defendants at Southwark Crown court in London on Wednesday to deny five charges, including links to an alleged conspiracy to hack phones, corrupt payments to public officials and attempting to hide evidence from the police. Twenty-nine barristers and thirty seven solicitors also crammed the court. The campaigning Labour M.P. Tom Watson was in the gallery with 30 members of the press to hear the pleas.
Brooks, the 45-year-old former chief executive of News International, rose to be one of the most powerful players in British media and effectively became Rupert Murdoch’s London ambassador. In 2000, she was appointed as the youngest-ever editor of the bestselling English-language newspaper, the Sunday tabloid News of the World, and three years later the first female editor of the most widely read daily, The Sun. She was a protégé of Murdoch’s and often described as “one of the family” when she was elevated to CEO of Murdoch’s dominant U.K. publishing subsidiary
Murdoch flew in to manage the phone-hacking crisis in July 2011, which resulted in the closure of New of the World and the loss of hundreds of journalist jobs. He was asked by journalists what his priority was. He pointed to Brooks and said, “That one.”
Brooks stood accused, along with her husband, Charlie, her personal assistant, chauffeur, bodyguard, and News International's head of security, of conspiring to pervert the course of justice by concealing material, documents, and computers from police during the scandal. Brooks also pleaded not guilty to charges relating to illegal interception of phone messages of "well-known people and/or those associated with them" between 2000 and 2006, including that of murdered teenager Milly Dowler. She was joined in the not-guilty pleas by four other high-ranking executives: former News of the World managing editor Stuart Kuttner, former royal reporter Clive Goodman, and reporter James Weatherup.
The not-guilty pleas mean that the long-anticipated trial will go ahead in September, with public evidence and cross-examination. This will not likely be good news for Prime Minister David Cameron, suffering in the polls because of a sluggish economy and beset by a British press in fury over proposed legislation for a tough new independent press regulator.
Not only was Brooks close to the Murdoch family, but she was also personal friends with the last three prime ministers, including David Cameron, who was a close neighbor in his constituency home. The “country suppers” in Oxfordshire, and their close relationship was revealed by the judge-led Leveson Inquiry into press ethics. Brooks texted to Cameron that she cried through one of the Conservative leader’s speeches and cheered on the then would-be prime minister with the phrase “Yes we Cam!” (The Sun also supported Cameron with an Obama-style poster on the day of the election.) Cameron would sign off his texts to her with LOL, thinking that it meant “lots of love” rather than “laugh out loud.’
Cameron’s former head of communications and Brooks’s successor at “News of the World,” Andy Coulson, is due to enter his plea in court tomorrow.