New reverberations in Rebekah Brooks case

2012-06-13 22:33

London - Rebekah Brooks, the former top aide to Rupert Murdoch and friend of British premier David Cameron, was granted bail by a court in London on Wednesday on charges relating to the phone-hacking scandal.

Her first court appearance came amid new reverberations from the scandal, with a rift opening in the coalition government over a minister's dealings with Murdoch's US-based News Corporation.

Brooks, 44, was alongside her racehorse trainer husband Charlie Brooks, 49, and four others facing charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in the police investigation into hacking at the News of the World.

Brooks - who resigned last July as chief executive of News International (NI), Murdoch's British newspaper operation - and her spouse were greeted by a huge media scrum as they arrived at the court.

After a short hearing, their first since they were charged on 15 May, all six were bailed to appear again on 22 June. All spoke only to confirm their dates of birth and addresses.

Brooks was wearing a green scarf and dark blue jacket and sat next to her husband, who wore a charcoal suit and navy tie, an AFP reporter in court said. The couple looked relaxed and were both smiling, unlike the other defendants.

She faces three charges of removing boxes of material from the archive of News International, and trying to conceal documents, computers and other material from police during the frantic last days of the News of the World.

The tabloid closed down in disgrace in July 2011 after it emerged that it had hacked the phone of Milly Dowler, a murdered schoolgirl.

Charlie Brooks, Cheryl Carter, 48, Brooks's personal assistant, Mark Hanna, the head of security at NI, Brooks's chauffeur Paul Edwards, 47, who was employed by NI, and Daryl Jorsling, 39, who provided security for Brooks that was supplied by NI, all face one charge each.

Ministerial code of conduct

The charges carry a maximum term of life imprisonment.

The flame-haired Brooks edited the News of the World from 2000-2003 before taking up the same post at The Sun, Murdoch's top-selling British daily tabloid.

Brooks moved in the highest circles of British politics, and testified to Britain's Leveson inquiry into press ethics last month about her close friendship with Conservative prime minister Cameron.

Cameron is due to appear before the inquiry on Thursday, when he is likely to face scrutiny over his ties to Brooks.

He also faced pressure on Wednesday after the Liberal Democrats said they would not back under-fire Conservative culture minister Jeremy Hunt over his handling of a bid for News Corp for control of pay-TV giant BSkyB.

Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told his lawmakers they could abstain from a vote introduced by the opposition Labour party calling for a probe into whether Hunt broke the ministerial code of conduct.

Hunt defended himself against the "disgraceful allegation" that he deliberately misled parliament, telling opposition lawmakers: "I have made huge efforts to be transparent and you know that perfectly well."

News Corp

The government is still likely to win Wednesday's non-binding vote.

News Corp abandoned the BSkyB bid when the hacking scandal blew up last year.

Clegg told the inquiry on Wednesday his party had not tried to curry favour with Murdoch as the Conservatives and Labour had.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond meanwhile told the inquiry that he believed his bank account was hacked by The Observer - a sister newspaper of The Guardian, which led the investigation into hacking by Murdoch's empire.

The charges against Brooks and the other five defendants are the first since Scotland Yard opened a huge new investigation into hacking and bribery in which more than 40 people have been arrested.

A News of the World journalist and a private detective were jailed for hacking in 2007 but the paper insisted they were rogue operators.