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Ex-head of News International arrested in hacking scandal

Rebekah Brooks, who resigned Friday, is suspected of conspiring to intercept private voicemails in the scandal that has rocked Rupert Murdoch's media empire.

July 17, 2011|By Henry Chu | Los Angeles Times
  • News Corporation Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch with Rebekah Brooks, then chief executive of News International, in a July 10 photo. Brooks resigned last week.
News Corporation Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch with Rebekah Brooks,… (Olivia Harris, Reuters )

LONDON — Rebekah Brooks, the former head of media mogul Rupert Murdoch's British operations, was arrested Sunday in connection with a spiraling phone-hacking scandal, police and media reports said.

Scotland Yard confirmed that a 43-year-old woman was arrested at noon on suspicion of conspiring to intercept private voicemails and corruption allegations. British media identified the woman as Brooks.

Until her resignation Friday, Brooks was the chief executive of News International, the British subsidiary of Murdoch's media giant News Corp. The company's now-defunct weekly tabloid, the News of the World, has been accused of hacking into cellphones belonging to politicians, celebrities and crime victims -- up to 4,000 people in all.

Brooks was the tabloid's editor when a private investigator hired by the paper allegedly accessed the voicemails left for Milly Dowler, a kidnapped 13-year-old girl who was later found slain in 2002. The investigator is suspected of not only listening to the messages but deleting some of them to free up space for more, which falsely raised the Dowler family's hopes that Milly was still alive.

The revelation two weeks ago that the girl's cellphone was among those targeted by the News of the World in its pursuit of scoops triggered an outpouring of public disgust.

The hacking scandal has become a grave challenge to Murdoch's media empire, with a massive ongoing police investigation into the News of the World here in Britain and a newly launched probe in the U.S., where the FBI is looking into whether the tabloid hacked into or tried to get the records of cellphones belonging to victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In addition to hacking into phones, the News of the World is also alleged to have paid bribes to police officers in exchange for information.

Brooks was arrested on suspicion of both counts. She is the 10th person to be arrested in the hacking scandal. It marks a spectacular fall from grace for a woman who until earlier this month was one of the most influential people in Britain. News International, the company she headed, owns some of the country's biggest-selling newspapers, including the Sun tabloid and the Times of London.

Brooks has been summoned to give evidence before a parliamentary committee on Tuesday. If her arrest follows the pattern of previous arrests in the case, she is likely to be released on bail later Sunday and would therefore be free to give evidence as scheduled.

Murdoch and his son James are also expected to appear before the parliamentary committee Tuesday.

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