Rebekah Brooks appeared in court in London this morning for the latest stage in what could be a long legal battle for the former British media star. Wearing a black dress and high heels and seated alongside her husband, racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks, and four of her associates, Brooks spoke only to confirm her name as prosecutors leveled charges of conspiring to pervert the course of justice—the only charges to be brought in relation to the phone-hacking scandal so far.
Brooks has been arrested and bailed in relation to the police investigations into phone hacking and alleged payments to police by journalists at News International, Rupert Murdoch’s British media arm, where Brooks was a senior executive. But the charges she faced Friday relate to two weeks between July 6 and July 19 of last year, when the phone-hacking scandal was at its height. During that time, Brooks and the other suspects allegedly conspired to conceal material from police officers with Operation Weeting, the ongoing investigation into hacking. Brooks is accused of conspiring to conceal material, including documents and computers, from Weeting investigators, as well as removing seven boxes of material from the News International archive.
Also appearing alongside Brooks and her husband were Cheryl Carter, Brooks’s former personal assistant; Paul Edwards, her chauffeur; Mark Hanna, News International’s head of security; and Daryl Jorsling, a security consultant. Brooks faces three separate charges, and the other defendants each face one. All six were released on bail until a hearing on Sept. 26, when they are expected to enter their pleas.
Perverting the course of justice is seen as a potentially more severe crime than phone hacking in Britain. It carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, though a recent legal analysis by the Guardian put the average sentence at 10 months.
Addressing the court Friday, Brooks’s lawyer, Hugo Keith, said the extensive media scrutiny of Brooks to date might have ruined her chances for a fair trial. “I am afraid there are certain sites, blogs and the like, where there has been some extremely offensive, unpleasant and prejudicial commentary,” he said, according to the Telegraph.
This echoed comments made by both Brooks and her husband after the charges against them were announced last month. Appearing with her husband, Brooks said she was “baffled by the decision to charge me,” calling the decision to charge her “weak and unjust.” She added, “I cannot express my anger enough that those close to me have unfairly been dragged into this.”
In his own remarks, Charlie Brooks was equally defiant, complaining that his wife was “the subject of a witch hunt” and that he and the others had been used as “scapegoats” to ratchet up pressure on her. “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.
Brooks has been a lightning rod for the scandal gripping Murdoch’s British news empire. She was editor of the News of the World when journalists from the tabloid allegedly hacked the voicemail of Milly Dowler, a murdered schoolgirl, and she went on to edit the powerful daily Sun, which is now at the center of its own scandal over alleged payments to police and other public officials. Brooks went on to become chief executive of News International before resigning this summer as the hacking scandal intensified.
But it is Brooks’s close relationships with members of Britain’s power elite, in particular Prime Minister David Cameron, that have drawn the most scrutiny of late. At her appearance last month before the high-profile Leveson Inquiry into the British press, Brooks famously revealed that Cameron had occasionally signed his text messages to her with “LOL”—which she said he took to mean “lots of love.” In Cameron’s own recent Leveson appearance, meanwhile, the revelation of a glowing text he received from Brooks caused yet another news storm. Brooks sent the text shortly after News International’s newspapers switched their support from the Labour party to Cameron’s Conservatives, as Cameron was preparing to give a speech at his party conference. “I am so rooting for you tomorrow not just as a proud friend but because professionally we're definitely in this together!” Brooks wrote. “Speech of your life? Yes he Cam!”
Brooks made tabloid headlines of a different sort this week when she and her husband made what was reported as their first public outing with the couple’s baby daughter, who was born to a surrogate mother in January. But Friday’s trial provided a stark reminder that her legal troubles may just be getting underway. Andrew Edis, a prosecutor, reportedly told the court in London this morning that he was “reasonably confident” that Brooks would learn whether she faces phone hacking charges this summer.