2011-07-18 News International chief Brooks arrested over hacking scandal

Former Murdoch chief Rebekah Brooks was arrested and detained last night by British police on charges of conspiring to illegally intercept communications as well as corruption, in the form of bribing police.

Brooks was apprehended by detectives working on Operation Weeting – the UK Metropolitan Police’s phone hacking investigation, and Operation Elveden – the investigation into illicit payments to police officers, a July 18 Guardian article reported.

Until recently, Brooks had been defended by both Rupert and James Murdoch from the very outset of the now-widespread hacking scandal that began within the Murdoch-owned newspaper News of the World.

One of the most contentious cases in the scandal so far is that of teenager Milly Dowler, who was abducted on her way home from school and subsequently murdered. Milly Dowler’s family’s phone messages were illegally intercepted by News of the World staff.

Mark Lewis, the lawyer for Milly Dowler’s family has questioned the timing of the arrest, as Brooks is due to be questioned by a parliamentary committee next Tuesday.

“Undoubtedly, she will have the option of saying on Tuesday ‘I’m sorry I can’t answer that because I’m under police investigation ‘,” he said. “The timing stinks...it gives the impression that those questions can’t be asked [at this time]...it looks deliberate.”

Liberal Democrat MP Adrian Sanders has also expressed grave concerns over the timing of the arrest, according to a July 18 article in The Age.

The House of Commons select committee maintained that it would not canvass material that affected any criminal investigation and Brooks now appears to be protected by that. Brooks has been offering to help the police since January, yet two days before she is due to stand before a parliamentary committee she was arrested.

BBC business editor Robert Peterson disagrees with the argument that the arrest was a deliberate attempt to avoid the parliamentary committee. Writing on Twitter he explains that according to her spokesman, Brooks would still be happy to appear before the select committee tomorrow.

Lawyer and broadcaster Mark Stephens also disregards the notion that Brooks was arrested as a ploy to avoid the parliamentary committee, writing on Twitter he states: “More ludicrous commentary that R Brooks [sic] won’t attend the select committee. Of course she will. She has a summons, so cannot avoid it.” He also writes that in his view she was never going to answer much anyhow.

An article by Michael White, a commentator for The Guardian, the UK paper leading the phone-hacking exposes, said to the BBC that the police were trying to divert attention away from serious questions about corruption and misconduct on their part: “This is a bit of showbiz by the police...The Met want to take the heat off themselves,” he said.

Brooks resigned last Friday over the phone-hacking scandal. She was an editor on the recently closed News of the World newspaper – during the period in which Milly Dowlers’ family’s phone was tapped – and also worked as editor on at The Sun, which actor Jude Law has accused of voicemail hacking.

Mrs Brooks has repeatedly denied any knowledge or involvement in the hacking and was on holiday leave during the period in which Milly’s voicemail was intercepted.

After persistent pressure for her to resign, Brooks resigned from News International on July 15, 2011. According to a July 15 article published on New Statesmen she said: “As chief executive of the company, I feel a deep sense of responsibility for the people we have hurt and I want to reiterate how sorry I am for what we now know to have taken place. I have believed that the right and responsible action has been to lead us through the heat of the crisis. However my desire to remain on the bridge has made me a focal point of the debate. This is now detracting attention from all our honest endeavors to fix the problems of the past. Therefore I have given Rupert and James Murdoch my resignation. While it has been a subject of discussion, this time my resignation has been accepted."

British Opposition Leader Ed Miliband has called for Murdoch’s UK media empire to be reduced, because it has “too much power over British public life”. Miliband has also stated that he would push for cross-party agreement on new media ownership in response to the Murdoch’s heavyweights’ handling of the phone hacking scandal.

“I think we’ve got to look at the situation whereby one person can own 20 per cent of the newspaper market,” he told the Observer newspaper.

So far, ten people have been arrested in the investigations, Brooks was given prior warning of the upcoming arrest on Friday shortly after she handed in her resignation and secured a US $3.5 million pay off from News International.

The phone hacking scandal, recently dubbed ‘Hacker-gate’ has spread virally since the initial infection within the News of the World newspaper. Murdoch outlets across the globe have come under scrutiny in the wake of the initial scandal in the UK. Politicians from Australia to the US have expressed concern that Murdoch outlets in these countries have been engaging in the same unethical and illegal practices.

In Australia, News Ltd is engaging in an investigation into the practices of its Australian publications: The Australian and The Herald Sun are the most prominent Murdoch newspapers in Australia; in the US investigations are being carried out by the FBI with regards to the phone-hacking of 911 victims’ families by Murdoch newspapers.