Just weeks before she is expected to appear before a judicial inquiry into the British press, Rebekah Brooks, the highest-profile figure to be arrested in the phone-hacking scandal to date, is already feeling the heat. The former CEO of News Corp.’s U.K. arm and onetime editor of its now-defunct tabloid, News of the World, Brooks has already been arrested and questioned twice in the ongoing police investigations into potential wrongdoing in Rupert Murdoch’s British media empire. Now, according to the country’s top court official, police have dedicated a separate investigation to Brooks herself.
Keir Starmer, QC, who heads the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), announced today that Scotland Yard has handed four files to the CPS relating to 11 possible suspects in the investigations surrounding phone hacking. This means the police investigations into these specific cases are largely complete and that government lawyers will now evaluate the chances of a successful prosecution, bringing the cases one big step closer to court. "The decisions we are going to make are going to be extremely difficult and extremely sensitive," Starmer said.
Starmer refused to identify the individuals involved or detail the alleged offenses. Instead, he confirmed that only four of the 11 suspects were journalists, and that the cases related to five police operations—including two that were not previously known.
According to Starmer’s announcement, the cases related to Operation Weeting, the investigation into phone hacking; Operation Tuleta, into computer hacking; and Operation Elveden, into corrupt payments to police and other public officials. Starmer said that a fourth investigation, Operation Kilo, is looking into leaks from the phone-hacking investigation.
In a startling further admission, Starmer revealed that Rebekah Brooks, along with her husband, the racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks, now have their own dedicated police investigation—Operation Sacha, which relates to last month’s arrests of the couple under suspicion of attempting to pervert the course of justice, a serious charge that carries a potential seven-year sentence, although the specific allegations underlying such a charge remain unknown.
Starmer also confirmed that one of the four current files relates to alleged attempts to cover up the scale phone hacking. The other three cases relate to potential misconduct under the data protection act, along with misconduct in a public office; potential witness intimidation and harassment; and a potential breach of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which relates to the interception of communications.
Last summer, Charlie Brooks became embroiled in the scandal following an unusual incident in a car-park near the couple’s London home. In the incident, he reportedly tried to reclaim a bag containing a computer, paperwork, and a phone that had been discovered in the car-park. Instead, security guards handed the bag over to the police. Charlie Brooks denied that the bag belonged to his wife, and his official spokesman, David Wilson, said that the bag contained “nothing to do with Rebekah or the [phone-hacking] case.”
News of Operation Sacha can only come as a new blow for Rebekah Brooks, who is the mother of a 4-month-old baby, born to a surrogate mother earlier this year. As a former favorite of Rupert Murdoch’s, who rose to be the youngest-ever editor of the bestselling English language newspaper in the world, News of the World, and the first-ever female editor of the bestselling British tabloid The Sun, the fall from grace has been the most precipitous of all those caught up in the saga.
During her decade at the top of Fleet Street, Brooks formed close personal ties with three successive prime ministers—Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and David Cameron. All three are set to appear, along with Brooks herself, during the third stage of the Leveson Inquiry, which opens next week, and will focus on the relationship between politicians and the press.