Rupert Murdoch’s former deputy was back at a police station today, answering her bail. This time, Mike Giglio reports, she was grilled about payments to government officials.
In 2003, Rupert Murdoch’s then-star editor Rebekah Brooks made a fateful appearance before Parliament, in which she boldly admitted that her reporters had paid police for information in the past. Brooks’s comments are now coming back to haunt her. Last month, a wave of arrests shook Murdoch’s flagship tabloid The Sun—which Brooks was editing at the time of her 2003 testimony, following a stint editing News of the World—as part of an investigation into whether journalists had paid police. After the arrests, lead phone-hacking investigator Sue Akers publicly denounced a “culture” of illegal payments at The Sun to the Leveson Inquiry, which is now examining the troublesome relationship between the British media and the country’s public officials.
Rebekah Brooks, the former News International chief, posted bail on March 14 following her arrest on charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. (Alan Crowhurst / Getty Images)
Now, it has been confirmed that Scotland Yard is also interested in questioning Brooks about payments to the Ministry of Defence.
Brooks was arrested last week, along with her husband, on suspicion of attempting to pervert the course of justice. It was Brooks’s second arrest since the phone-hacking scandal broke last summer: the first came just days after she resigned as the head of News International, the U.K. arm of News Corp., last July. Today, she had to answer her bail for the July arrest, which she did at a police station in the borough of Milton Keynes, arriving at 10 a.m. in a black BMW, according to a local paper. As part of the bail questioning today, the British Press Association reports, police asked Brooks about payments to a source in the Ministry of Defence.
A Defence official was arrested last month in the same round of arrests that swept through the Sun’s upper ranks. (Scotland Yard also rounded up a police officer and a member of the armed forces that same day.) Scotland Yard isn’t the only agency looking into the activities of Murdoch’s tabloids. The FBI has long been reported to be investigating whether News Corp. is in violation of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which prohibits American companies from baying bribes to foreign officials. On Sunday, British papers reported that the FBI has told Scotland Yard it is “prepared to step in” if the British police fail to investigate the full extent of allegedly illegal activity in Murdoch’s tabloids. As Mike Koehler, an FCPA expert at Butler University, told The Daily Beast after last month’s arrests, the risk to News Corp. grows as the investigation expands from police to include the military and government. “The issue when it comes to executives will be, did they authorize the payments, or did they know about them but fail to put a stop to them,” Koehler said.
History shows the media mogul and the former prime minister might have been scratching each other’s backs. Peter Jukes on whether David Cameron and Murdoch’s son are doing the same 30 years later.
Private papers from the archives of Margaret Thatcher released Saturday reveals that, when it comes to the Murdoch family’s 40-year dominance of the British media market, history tries to repeat itself: the first time in secrecy, the second time in scandal.
Publisher Rupert Murdoch, Dec. 3, 1982 (Elise Amendola / AP Photo)
Over 30 years ago, having already acquired the now defunct Sunday News of the World and the daily Sun a decade earlier, Rupert Murdoch was in control of Britain’s two best-selling papers. In 1979, during a close election between the Labor incumbent and Conservative Party candidate Margaret Thatcher, his Sun dramatically switched its support: “Both young people and traditionally Labou supporters tend to be idealists … That is precisely why, on this momentous occasion, we firmly advise our readers to VOTE TORY.”
A year later, Murdoch sent tremors through the establishment by making a surprise bid for the Times Group. The press was in uproar: questions were raised in the House of Commons. Not only was Murdoch proposing to take over the historic paper of record, The Times of London (which Abraham Lincoln had once described as having more power than anything except the Mississippi), but combined with the esteemed Sunday Times and existing tabloids, he would own 27 percent of the newspaper market. The Tory government was legally bound to refer the bid to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. It should have been dead in the water.
For decades, the full story of Murdoch’s eventual acquisition of the Times Group has consisted of guesswork. He wooed the unions and editorial staff by promising jobs and independence—promises he rapidly broke. Many suspected a behind-the-scenes deal, and the diaries of Woodrow Wyatt, a confidante of both Murdoch and Thatcher, outlined the quid pro quos of political support. However, until now, any personal meetings between the Proprietor and the prime minister on the bid have been denied.
In a timely move, the Thatcher Foundation has just released papers detailing Murdoch’s secret lunch with Thatcher in January 1981. The fix is in. Murdoch (who had moved to the U.S. in 1973) promised to introduce Thatcher to President Ronald Reagan and key members of his entourage. Meanwhile, the bid could be waved through on a technicality: The Times, though not The Sunday Times, was a money-loser. The rest—Murdoch’s unflagging support for Thatcher—is history.
Flash forward 30 years and Rupert’s son James, hoping to seal his role as heir apparent, planned to take over the whole of BSkyB, Britain’s monopoly pay-TV satellite service. The move would breach competition law and the stringent “pluralism’” test of the broadcasting regulator Ofcom. But in 2008, in his first major speech as News Corp senior executive, James called for Ofcom’s powers to be removed. In July 2009, the Conservative Party leader David Cameron made a similar speech. A month later, at the Edinburgh Television Festival, James called for the BBC to be downsized. Two months later the Sun, now under the direct control of James, reversed twelve years of Labor support. At the general election in 2010, all News International papers told their readership to vote Conservative.
With David Cameron finally in 10 Downing Street, and with his father Rupert one of the first visitors James launched his $15-billion bid for the remaining share of BSkyB in May 2010. Again there was uproar in the press, and questions were raised in Parliament. However, in September, the Coalition slashed the BBC’s budget by 16 percent in a comprehensive spending review. That December, the Liberal Democrat Minister Vince Cable was removed from oversight of the takeover when he was caught in a sting operation saying he had “declared war on Mr. Murdoch” and wanted the bid referred. Instead the process was overseen by Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt, and with some vague promises of independence for Sky News, the BSkyB bid was in days of being waved through July last year.
A new cache of documents confirms that the mogul held a secret meeting with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to discuss his controversial bid to acquire Britain's Times newspapers in 1981.
Of the many worrisome ties coming to light under the glare of the phone-hacking scandal, one of the most potentially explosive is the seemingly cozy relationship between British prime ministers and the Murdoch family. Tony Blair is godfather to one of Rupert Murdoch’s young daughters, as Murdoch's third wife revealed last year. Gordon Brown’s wife, Sarah, invited Rebekah Brooks—one of Murdoch’s closest lieutenants and who has been dubbed his “other daughter”—to a sleepover at Chequers, the prime minister’s country residence. And Murdoch visited Downing Street just two days after David Cameron, the current prime minister, took office—though not in the manner most people do. As Murdoch testified before Parliament last summer: “I was asked, 'Could I please come in through the back door.'”
Margaret Thatcher with Rupert Murdoch at a 1991 awards dinner in New York City (Alpha-Landov)
And then there’s Brooks’s onetime horse—Raisa, a mare loaned to her after it was retired from Scotland Yard—who also worked for Cameron. Cameron has admitted that he rode the animal alongside Brooks’s husband, racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks—who was arrested along with his wife earlier this week, as the phone-hacking scandal continues to gather steam.
This questionable relationship between the Murdoch family and the occupants of 10 Downing Street is nothing new, as was confirmed this morning by a shocking cache of documents. The papers, released from the archives of Margaret Thatcher—the “Iron Lady” prime minister who dominated British politics from 1979 to 1990—testify to a controversial, and previously denied, 1981 meeting between Thatcher and Murdoch at Chequers just weeks before the mogul skirted Britain’s anti-monopoly laws to purchase his most venerable U.K. newspaper holdings, the Times and Sunday Times.
The documents, released by the Margaret Thatcher Archive Trust and first reported this morning by the BBC, include a note marked “commercial in confidence” from Thatcher’s press secretary, Bernard Ingham, detailing the meeting, which has long been denied by both Thatcher and Murdoch. “The main purpose of Mr. Murdoch’s meeting was to brief the prime minister on his bid for Times Newspapers,” the note reads, before going on to detail Murdoch’s plans for the acquisition, including reducing the workforce by a quarter and challenging the notorious print unions. “The prime minister thanked Mr. Murdoch for keeping her posted on his operations.”
The secret meeting is controversial because Murdoch needed a special exemption from the government in order to avoid having his bid referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Committee, as he already owned The Sun and News of the World newspapers. Though this issue is not addressed in the meeting, the argument Murdoch would later use to avoid facing the MMC—that the newspapers were unprofitable, and therefore eligible for an exemption—is hinted at in the note. “Mr. Murdoch freely admitted that some £50 million of the News Group’s resources could be at risk and that such an amount ‘could finish us’. He implied that he was willing to take losses for a limited, but unspecified, period,” Ingham writes. “Nonetheless, turning round a £13-17 million loss was a formidable underaking at a time of deep industrial recession.”
Critics have long challenged Murdoch’s arguments on the Times’s finances, arguing that the Sunday Times was already on its way to returning to financial health. But as the BBC notes, recently released minutes from a 1981 government meeting on the takeover show Thatcher highlighting the exemption, which ultimately allowed Murdoch to go through with his bid, creating what would become by far the United Kingdom’s largest newspaper group. The Times went on to become a stalwart supporter of Thatcher.
Ten days after the 1981 meeting at Chequers, Murdoch sent Thatcher a thank-you note, which is also included in the released documents. “My dear prime pinister,” Murdoch writes. “It was very kind indeed of you to let me interrupt your weekend at Chequers 10 days ago and I greatly enjoyed seeing you again. ‘The Times’ business is proceeding.”
In an unsolicited letter to Parliament, Rupert’s son swears to ignorance in the phone-hacking scandal. Mike Giglio on why the plea could be a preemptive strike against looming accusations.
Does James Murdoch protest too much?
The younger Murdoch, onetime heir to his father Rupert’s News Corp. throne, drew headlines earlier this month when he stepped down as head of the conglomerate’s scandal-ridden U.K. arm, News International, where he oversaw his father’s British newspaper empire—including the Sun, the best-selling tabloid currently beset by a police investigation into payment of public officials and News of the World, which was shuttered this summer at the height of the phone hacking affair.
Oli Scarff / Getty Images
But amid the wash of media ink on James’ shamefaced departure, seasoned Murdoch watchers pointed out that the News International post was relatively small fry for the heir—as media analyst and longtime Murdoch expert Claire Enders noted to The Daily Beast at the time, James was likely eager to distance himself from the company’s sullied tabloid brand. Unlike his father, who harbors a legendary love for the printed word, the younger Murdoch made his career in satellite TV—and it was his post at the helm of one of News Corporation’s most prestigious television properties, the London-based BSkyB, that was believed to be his prime concern.
Murdoch’s desire to retain that post is thought to be among the motivating factors for an unsolicited seven-page missive that he sent to British Parliamentarians at the start of the week. It is addressed to the chairman of the parliamentary committee on culture, media and sport—the body, formerly known as a posting for MPs to score free tickets to theater and sporting events, that has morphed—under the initiative of members led by the crusading MP Tom Watson—into a bloodhound on the Murdochs and their phone-hacking trail. It was before this same committee that Rupert and James made their infamous appearance last summer to defend their handling of the crisis—with Rupert getting a shaving-cream pie in the face, and James insisting vehemently that, until only recently, the scale of the problem had been carefully kept from his sight. Now, the committee is deliberating on the conclusions of a highly anticipated report that experts believe could spell serious trouble for James Murdoch, possibly even shaking him in his BSkyB seat.
Was the letter from James a preemptive strike?
“His letter was known to the press before the committee members received it,” lamented Watson, the MP, via Twitter last night.
In the letter, James Murdoch reiterated his comments from this summer—which, despite mounting suspicion to the contrary, remain his main defense: that he was not aware of the scope of the problem taking place under his watch, or involved in trying to shield it from view. “It has been suggested that my decision to resign my role at News International reflected past knowledge of voicemail interception or of other alleged criminal wrongdoing at News International. This is untrue,” Murdoch wrote. “I take my share of responsibility for not uncovering wrongdoing earlier. However, I have not misled Parliament. I did not know about, nor did I try to hide, wrongdoing. I do not believe the evidence before you supports any other conclusion.”
On the heels of the former News of the World editor’s arrest, questions arise about David Cameron’s ties to the flame-haired Murdoch favorite.
The rolling hills of Oxfordshire, a genteel county in southeastern England, make for ideal riding country. The gentle pastures are favored by equestrian enthusiasts—including the British prime minister himself, whose outings on a police horse named Raisa created a stir in the U.K. press this month. The affair, dubbed “Horsegate,” revealed that David Cameron went riding on the mare with horse trainer and fellow Etonian Charlie Brooks—a man whom Cameron described as a “good friend for many years,” and whose wife, Rebekah, is, of course, the flame-haired lightning rod at the center of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal. The horse had been lent to the couple by Scotland Yard, which said that “re-homing” horses after their retirement is a common practice. But critics saw the episode as evidence of how closely Britain’s power centers—from the media and Scotland Yard to Downing Street—have been linked in the ongoing saga.
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So when news broke this morning of the arrests of Rebekah and Charlie, the inevitable question arose: just how close is Cameron to the power couple? And is it possible that the current woes of Murdoch’s former deputy—who, at the height of the phone-hacking scandal last summer, was called the most hated woman in Britain—could eventually tarnish Cameron himself?
“This is getting very, very difficult for [Cameron],” says a Westminster source who has been following the phone-hacking investigations closely. “It keeps getting ratcheted up. When someone who you declare has been a close personal friend of yours is arrested on a charge of perverting the course of justice, this is serious. We’re well beyond phone hacking. This is another dimension.”
As Cameron pointed out, he’s been close to Charlie Brooks for years, reaching all the way back to their schoolboy days. The Telegraph cited a November 2009 article for the British version of GQ, titled “The Eton Factor,” in which Brooks praised his fellow alumni, including both Cameron and the prime minister’s older brother Alex, a barrister. “Alex Cameron QC is the star of our pack,” wrote Brooks, who is the same age as the elder Cameron. “I thought he’d do well in politics, but it was to the bar that he went.”
“Then there’s Alex Cameron’s younger brother Dave,” Brooks continued. “Of him, we’ll be hearing plenty. If you’ve never seen him in action on a tennis court or cricket pitch, I can assure you of one thing. He’s a competitive old blue.”
The Telegraph piece noted that Brooks in fact seemed closer to Alex Cameron, and that a three-year difference between Brooks and David Cameron “makes a huge difference in the rigid social structure of a public school like Eton.” The suggestion was that Cameron was trying to cover up his close relationship to the controversial Rebekah by claiming the bond was with Charlie instead—an idea that, with both Brookses arrested today, seems unlikely to do the prime minister much good.
The younger Cameron was close enough to Charlie and Rebekah, known at the time as Rebekah Wade, to be a guest at their 2009 wedding at millionaire Charlie’s lavish estate in Oxfordshire. Cameron and his wife, Samantha, have reportedly spent frequent dinners, picnics, and at least one Christmas party with the Brookses (nicknamed “Champagne Charlie” and “Looks Brooks” by the media). And both couples are known to be members—along with James and Katherine Murdoch, who have also reportedly dined with the Camerons and Brookses—of the tightly knit Chipping Norton set, named for the tony market town in the Cotswold Hills where they all live, and which is an enclave of Tory power.
Former Murdoch deputy and husband reportedly questioned on conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
Rebekah Brooks and her husband, the horse-trainer Charlie Brooks, were arrested this morning as part of the biggest wave of arrests yet to come out of Operation Weeting, the police investigation into phone hacking in the U.K. press, and specifically into Rupert Murdoch’s former flagship tabloid, News of the World, which closed last summer amid accusations that the paper’s journos had hacked into the cellphone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler. Brooks is a former editor of that newspaper, as well as of The Sun, which has been battered of late by a parallel investigation into illegal payments to public officials.
Rebekah Brooks, former chief executive of News International arrives with husband Charlie Brooks at Newbury racecourse in Newbury, England, Nov. 26, 2011 (Alan Crowhurst / Getty Images)
According to a statement released by Scotland Yard, six people were arrested between the hours of 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. this morning, on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. While police refused to identify the suspects, they confirmed that a 43-year-old woman and a 49-year-old man were both arrested at their homes in Oxfordshire and were being interviewed at Buckinghamshire Police Station. The pair are widely reported to be the Brookses.
Sky News has reported that the head of security at News International, Mark Hanna, is included in the arrests.
In its statement, Scotland Yard said that “a number of the addresses connected to the arrests are being searched.” Twenty-three people have so far been arrested in connection with Operation Weeting, including former chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck and former executive editor Neil Wallis. Cheryl Carter, Rebekah Brooks’s former personal assistant, was previously arrested on suspicion of conspiring to pervert the course of justice, along with Glenn Mulcaire, the infamous private investigator.
Significantly, the arrests are not in relation to the illegal hacking of voicemails or payments to public officials, but to obstructing justice. On that front, there have been some potentially damaging allegations of late. Earlier this year, it was revealed that an IT worker deleted a controversial email from the account of James Murdoch, who stepped down as the head of News International this month, just 11 days before Operation Weeting began. And court documents released last month allege a so-called “email deletion policy” at News International, discussed by at least one unnamed senior executive, in which “hundreds of thousands of emails, on nine separate occasions, were destroyed,” according to the documents.
Conspiracy to pervert the course of justice carries more serious legal implications than phone hacking. Tom Watson, the M.P. leading the campaign against Murdoch in Parliament, responded to news of the email deletion policy last month by tweeting, “the game is up @rupertmurdoch.”
Martin Moore, the director of the Media Standards Trust and founder of the Hacked Off campaign, told The Daily Beast in an email today that today’s arrests could be linked to the deleted emails. “A few weeks ago we learnt that senior executives at News International deleted hundreds of thousands of emails in a deliberate policy to undermine legal action by victims of hacking,” he said. “This was conspiracy to pervert the course of justice on a pretty grand scale. It would not be surprising if today’s arrests were connected to that deletion.”
Revealing more evidence of illicit ties.
We wish we could say that the latest twist in investigations into News Corp.’s papers comes as a surprise. Two former Scotland Yard chiefs testified on Wednesday that their sons both gained “work experience” at News International, Rupert Murdoch’s publishing division. “It was a perfectly normal process,” said former Commissioner Ian Blair, “the kind of thing that would excite most 15-year-olds.” The nature of their experience wasn’t made clear, but the British usually equate the phrase with brief, unpaid internships. And while it’s hardly uncommon for kids to get internships through family connections, it may be further evidence of illicit ties between the Metropolitan Police and News Corp. Last week, it was revealed that former Sun and News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks rode around for years on a police horse.
As pressure mounts inside company.
Two senior Murdoch reporters apparently tried to commit suicide after 300 million emails and internal papers were turned over to investigators pursuing the phone-hacking scandal that rocked the company over the past year. The pair were checked into a hospital at the expense of News International, the British newspaper arm of Murdoch’s News Corp. Sources inside the company said journalists are “terribly stressed and many are on the edge,” and have been informed that the company will provide psychiatric help if needed.
Would be first domestic cases against News Corp.
Three people say they may sue Rupert Murdoch in American courts, a source tells Reuters. The three individuals believe they were targeted by Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator in the employ of News of the World, according to the source. If the three do file lawsuits against the media mogul, it will mark the first legal action taken against News Corp. in the States after the company has been pounded by lawsuits in Britain. According to Reuters’ sources, the three people were shown documents by the London police indicating that Mulcaire had investigated the three on behalf of News of the World in the U.S.
British Prime Minister David Cameron testified before the Leveson Inquiry Thursday, saying politicians and the media have an ‘unhealthy’ relationship that lacks trust and high standards.