Brooks quizzed in phone hacking probe

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Former News International chief executive questioned by police as UK’s top policeman quits over phone hacking scandal

Rebekah Brooks, the former head of media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper wing, has been released on bail after being questioned over the phone-hacking scandal.
British police arrested the 43-year-old Brooks earlier on Sunday as part of an investigation into allegations of illegal voicemail interception and police bribery.
Brooks, who has denied knowing about the alleged hacking cases, resigned over the allegations at News International’s News of the World tabloid, the paper she edited at the time some of the worst offences were alleged to have happened.
The resignation which came on Friday was seen as a move to deflect pressure from Murdoch’s News Corporation media empire which has been rocked by the crisis.
A statement released on her behalf said she “voluntarily attended a London police station to assist with their ongoing investigation”.
But a spokesman for Brooks told The Sun – a News International title which Brooks once edited – that her arrest had been “quite a surprise”.
“She was going, anticipating helping with their inquiry. She wasn’t anticipating she was going to be arrested.” he said.
In a further development on Sunday, Paul Stephenson, London’s police chief, quit in the face of allegations that police officers had accepted money from the tabloid and had not done enough to investigate hacking charges that surfaced as far back as 2005.

The trigger for his resignation was revelations he had stayed at a luxury spa at which Neil Wallis, a former News of the World deputy editor, was a public relations adviser.

Wallis, also employed by police as a consultant, was arrested last week in connection with the phone hacking scandal.

“I had no knowledge of the extent of this disgraceful practice (of phone hacking),” Stephenson said in a televised statement.

Feared compromising Cameron

He added that he had not told David Cameron about Wallis’s employment as a consultant for fear of compromising the British prime minister because of Cameron’s relationship with Andy Coulson, a former News of the World editor.

Coulson, who resigned from the tabloid in 2007 following the jailing of a reporter for phone hacking, later served as Cameron’s press secretary, but resigned after police reopened the phone hacking inquiry earlier this year.

“I did not want to compromise the prime minister in any way by revealing or discussing a potential suspect who clearly had a close relationship with Mr Coulson,” Stephenson said.

“I believe it would have been extraordinarily clumsy of me to have exposed the prime minister, or by association the home secretary, to any accusation, however unfair, as a consequence of them being in possession of operational information in this regard.”

  Brooks has denied knowledge of the alleged hacking cases at the News of the World tabloid she edited [Getty]

Coulson was arrested in connection with the phone-hacking inquiry on July 8.

The Guardian newspaper said on Monday that Cameron would cut short a visit to Africa to allow him to finalise arrangements for a judicial inquiry into phone hacking allegations at News Corporation.

Cameron will visit South Africa and Nigeria, but has cancelled visits to Rwanda and Sudan in order to return home on Tuesday night, the paper said.

The News of the World, which published its final edition a week ago, is alleged to have hacked thousands of phones, including that of murdered 13-year-old Milly Dowler, sparking a furore that forced Murdoch to close the paper and drop a $12bn plan to buy the highly profitable British satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

Brooks, Murdoch and his son, James Murdoch, were scheduled to be questioned in Britain’s parliament on Tuesday, including over reports that News International misled parliament during earlier hearings.

But Brooks’ arrest throws her appearance in front of the parliamentary committee into doubt. “It has many implications for Tuesday,” her spokesman said, according to the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Brooks became the focus of widespread anger over the scandal but was initially protected by Murdoch.

Murdoch guided her rise through the male-dominated world of UK tabloid journalism to become editor of the News of the World in 2000 and the Sun’s first female editor in 2003.

Brooks is “an extremely powerful woman” and a close friend not only of David Cameron, the current British prime minister, but also of his two predecessors, Al Jazeera’s Barnaby Phillips reported from London.

“Her arrest strikes at the heart of the Murdoch empire and also at the heart of the British political establishment.”


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