Rebekah Brooks, the close friend of News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch and former head of the company’s British publishing unit, was charged with trying to cover up the tabloid phone-hacking scandal.
Brooks, 43, faces three charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, Alison Levitt, the principal legal adviser to Britain’s Director of Public Prosecutions, said in London today. Brooks’s 49-year-old husband, Charlie, her former personal assistant, Cheryl Carter, and three other people were also charged.
Brooks conspired “to conceal documents, computers and other electronic equipment from officers,” and “remove seven boxes of material from the archive of News International,” in the police investigations into phone hacking and bribery of public officials at the News of the World and the Sun tabloids, prosecutors said.
The phone-hacking scandal prompted News Corp. to close the News of the World and drop its 7.8 billion-pound ($12.5 billion) bid for full control of British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc. (BSY) The charges against Brooks come four days after she testified at a media inquiry triggered by the scandal about her ties to Murdoch, Prime Minister David Cameron and other politicians.
Brooks is “baffled by the decision to charge” her and said in a televised statement that, “as details of the case emerge, people will see today as an expensive sideshow, and a waste of public money, as a result of this weak and unjust decision.”
Her husband, standing next to her, said the charges are “an attempt to use me and others as scapegoats, the effect of which is to ratchet up the pressure on my wife, who I believe is the subject of a witch hunt.”
Charlie Brooks said that, while he has “grave doubts” that his wife will get a fair trial, they will fight the case.
The charges against Brooks, which relate to events from July, are the first in the expanded police investigation into phone hacking, which began in January of last year. The charge, which can be related to destroying evidence or deliberately misleading a court or investigation, carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, according to prosecutors.
The CPS decided “there is sufficient evidence for there to be a realistic prospect of conviction” in regards to the defendants, Levitt said. The defendants were told to report to police stations today to face the charges.
Brooks’s personal assistant, Carter; the former head of security at News International, Mark Hanna; Brooks’s chauffeur, Paul Edwards, and former News International security guard Daryl Jorsling, were also charged in the cover-up, Levitt said.
Carter, 48, was charged with one count of perverting the course of justice at Basildon Police Station. She “vigorously denies the commission of that or any offense,” her lawyer, Henri Brandman, said in a statement.
Edwards, 47, of London, was charged at Belgravia Police Station today. Hanna, 49, from Buckinghamshire, reported to Bethnal Green Police Station to face the charge, and Jorsling, 39, was charged with one count of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice at Sutton police station, the Metropolitan police said. Brooks and her husband, who live in Oxfordshire, were charged at police stations in Lewisham and Hammersmith.
Brooks resigned from News International in July when it was revealed that News of the World journalists accessed messages on the phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler while Brooks was editor of the tabloid. She was arrested by police for the first time a few days after she stepped down.
Police arrested Brooks again on March 13 in the probe into the perversion of justice. Her husband and Hanna were also arrested at the time.
At the inquiry last week, which is probing the relationship between the press and politicians, Brooks was asked about her friendship with Cameron, a neighbor in Oxfordshire. She said Cameron sent her an “indirect” message offering her support when she resigned.
In the years before the scandal, she said she exchanged text messages with him about once a week, prior to him being elected. That increased to about twice a week during the 2010 general election.
Cameron signed off his texts with “LOL, for lots of love,” Brooks said at the inquiry led by Judge Brian Leveson. He stopped doing so after she told him it meant “laugh out loud,” she said.
Cameron’s spokesman declined to comment on the arrests, citing the continuing police investigation. Cameron wasn’t informed in advance and there was no discussion of the subject in this morning’s Cabinet meeting, the spokesman, Steve Field, told reporters in London.
Leveson’s inquiry is in addition to parliamentary probes and police investigations that have expanded to include bribery of public officials and computer hacking and have resulted in about 45 arrests.
Prosecutors received evidence from the Met Police on March 27 in relation to seven suspects. The seventh, who provided security for Brooks on behalf of News International, wasn’t charged. The six who were charged will have their first court appearance at Westminster Magistrates Court in London on June 13, prosecutors said.
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