News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch’s former top U.K. executive, Rebekah Brooks, was a regular victim of phone-hacking by the company’s News of the World tabloid when she edited the Sun newspaper, a police detective said today.
London police investigating two News of the World employees in 2006 found evidence Brooks’s mobile-phone messages were hacked into twice a week starting in 2005, Philip Williams, a detective chief superintendent who oversaw the probe, told a judge-led inquiry into media ethics today. Brooks, who was arrested last year in a new phone-hacking probe, declined to join the prosecution as a victim at the time, Williams said.
The inquiry is probing the relationship between U.K. police and the press after the 2006 case and a related 2009 probe didn’t uncover the extent of the scandal. The new investigation, begun in January 2011, revealed the practice was widespread, leading to dozens of arrests, the closure of the News of the World and resignations of two top police officials.
“One has to question why she took no action on being told that her phone was hacked,” Mark Lewis, a lawyer for phone-hacking victims, said in an interview. “It seems that she was reluctant to ask questions because she didn’t want the answers.”
James Murdoch Resigns
Murdoch closed the News of the World in July to help contain the hacking scandal. His son, James Murdoch, resigned as News International’s executive chairman as part of his relocation to New York, the company said today in a statement.
Brooks’s phone “was one of the most accessed since 2005,” the inquiry’s lead lawyer, Robert Jay, said of police evidence of phone-hacking victims.
David Wilson, Brooks’s spokesman, didn’t immediately return a call or e-mail seeking comment.
At the time Brooks’s messages were intercepted, the News of the World was edited by Andy Coulson, who later became press chief for U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and was arrested around the same time as Brooks in the phone-hacking probe.
Brooks edited the News of the World from 2000 to 2003 and the Sun from 2003 to 2009, when she was promoted to chief executive officer of London-based News International. She held that role until her resignation in July, two days before her arrest.
The inquiry earlier heard evidence that Brooks was tipped off about the status of the 2006 probe and kept a retired police horse in her stable from 2008 to 2010.
Investigators focused in the first probe on the paper’s royal reporter Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, who were jailed for phone-hacking in 2007, and didn’t follow-up on details suggesting others may have been involved, Williams said.
News Corp.’s power wasn’t the reason London police dropped their probe and didn’t look further, he said.
“I accept there were further leads we could have followed,” Williams said. “I knew there was a range of names in the evidence. We always propositioned this could be more widespread.”
The evidence in the criminal case came from 11,000 pages of notes seized during Mulcaire’s arrest.
Goodman and Mulcaire pleaded guilty to hacking the voice-mail messages of three members of the royal household and five other people, including model Elle Macpherson. Police didn’t tell 419 people on a list compiled at the time that their messages may have been intercepted by Mulcaire. Police now say there are 829 “likely” victims.
“I understand people think more people should have been informed, but I assure you this was not me trying to limit” awareness of what was going on, Williams said. There wasn’t enough proof that the voice mails of each person had actually been listened to, he said.
Judge Brian Leveson, who is overseeing the inquiry, said the evidence was at least proof of a conspiracy against the 419 people, and that similar evidence of a planned bank robbery would have resulted in the bank being warned.