Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive officer of News Corp.’s U.K. publishing unit, was arrested a second time by London police as the year old phone-hacking probe turned to a possible cover up, according to a person familiar with the situation.
The Metropolitan Police said they arrested five men and a 43-year-old woman in a probe to investigate a potential conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, without identifying the suspects. Brooks’s husband Charlie, a former racehorse trainer, was also arrested, the person said, declining to be identified because the matter is confidential. Police also detained Mark Hanna, who headed security for the News International unit, according to a spokeswoman for the company.
The probe into the phone-hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid has continued to expand to add an investigation into bribes to public officials and police. More than 20 people have been arrested as part Operation Weeting, the phone-hacking investigation, and at least 10 have been questioned since the beginning of the year in the bribery probe. The police service said for the first time that it consulted with prosecutors before making today’s arrests.
It appears today’s arrests “are about either destroying evidence or deliberately misleading a court or investigation,” Dan Morrison, a lawyer at Grosvenor Law LLP who represents people in criminal and regulatory investigations, said in a phone interview today. Consulting with the Crown Prosecution Service “suggests there is a high level of sensitivity attached to this.”
Police can hold a suspect without filing charges for as many as 36 hours. Perverting the course of justice carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, according to the Crown Prosecution Service’s website.
“The police have obviously made a big splash over these arrests,” said Niri Shan, the head of the media practice for London law firm Taylor Wessing LLP. “Whilst I think that it does add to the woes of News International, in the big scheme of things, it’s one of those things that I think they’ll take in their stride.”
The fact that Rebekah Brooks no longer works for News International should insulate the parent company from serious damage, he said.
The CPS didn’t return a call and the MPS declined to comment beyond the statement. David Wilson, a spokesman for the 43-year-old Brooks, declined to immediately comment and her attorney, Stephen Parkinson, didn’t immediately return a call.
Brooks’s former assistant at News International, Cheryl Carter, was arrested in January for attempting to pervert the course of justice, the BBC said. A woman at Carter’s address declined to comment at the time.
In July, police confiscated a laptop and papers belonging to Charlie Brooks, found in the trash near the couple’s home, the Guardian newspaper said.
The phone-hacking scandal prompted News Corp. to close the News of the World in July and drop its 7.8 billion-pound ($12.2 billion) bid for full control of British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc.
Also arrested today in the early morning raids between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. London time were a 46-year-old man in West London, a 38-year-old man in Hertfordshire and a 48-year-old man at an office address in East London. All were arrested as part of Operation Weeting and a number of addresses are being searched, the police said.
Riding With Cameron
The hacking scandal has led to an investigation into media ethics in the U.K. and the press’s relationship with public officials. Police were criticized last month after revealing that Brooks was loaned a police horse in 2008 as part of a program for retired mounts. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has admitted to riding the horse while on an outing with Brooks’s husband.
The Brooks’s arrests are “an operational matter for the police,” Vickie Sheriff, a spokeswoman for Cameron told reporters today. Andy Coulson, Cameron’s former press chief, was arrested last year by police investigating phone hacking over his tenure as editor of the News of the World.
The inquiry, commissioned by Cameron after the tabloid was closed in July, has also questioned police officers about expensive dinners and nights out in pubs with reporters.
‘Destroyers of Evidence’
News International employees have been admonished for obstructing investigations. Judge Geoffrey Vos said the company should be treated as “deliberate destroyers of evidence” at a January hearing where News Corp. settled three dozen cases involving phone-hacking victims.
In January 2011, eight days after police asked a News International tabloid to turn over any new evidence related to voice-mail hacking, the company deleted a potentially incriminating e-mail from News International Chairman James Murdoch’s mailbox. James Murdoch, currently deputy chief operating officer of News Corp., gave up his title as executive chairman of News International last month.
According to Linklaters LLP, the London law firm coordinating the company’s inquiry into alleged criminal behavior at News International, the deletion of James Murdoch’s e-mail files was part of a stabilization and modernization program started by the company’s information technology department in January of last year.