May 17 (Bloomberg) -- Last July when London prosecutors claim Rebekah Brooks was attempting to hide seven boxes of relevant evidence from a police probe, the former top lieutenant of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. was dealing with the crisis point of the phone-hacking scandal under investigation.
According to the Crown Prosecution Service, Brooks allegedly conspired with Cheryl Carter, her personal assistant, to remove the boxes from the premises of News International, the News Corp. U.K. unit she headed, between Wednesday July 6 and Saturday July 9.
News International and the London Metropolitan Police Service, which has been collecting evidence related to phone-hacking and other illegal activities at Murdoch-owned newspapers in the U.K., declined to comment on the contents of the boxes or to explain how they know about their removal.
The alleged actions of the women, who both deny the charges, took place during a week that began with the publication of a July 4 article in The Guardian. The paper reported that representatives of the Murdoch-owned tabloid News of the World had hacked into the voicemail of a phone belonging to Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old girl who had been abducted and murdered in 2002.
This week, Brooks, 43, became the highest ranking News Corp. executive to be charged in the 17-month-old investigation that has seen about 50 people arrested on suspicion of involvement in voice-mail intrusion, police bribery or computer-hacking.
The Guardian story provoked a furor over reporter behavior at the tabloid and created a public relations disaster for News International, publisher of News of the World and The Sun.
‘Get to the Bottom’
The company was already cooperating with a police inquiry into allegations of phone-hacking and police bribery at News of the World dating back to 2005 and 2006.
Brooks testified before Parliament that as soon as she learned of the Dowler incident, she wrote to the family to offer her apologies and pledged “to get to the bottom of the allegations.”
The Guardian story altered Brooks’s status at the company. For the previous five months, the News International chief executive had been responsible for managing its response to the police investigation. With the Dowler matter, there was evidence that phone hacking had taken place at News of the World as far back as 2002, when Brooks had been the paper’s editor.
On Wednesday, July 6, Murdoch issued a statement pledging full cooperation with the police investigations.
“That is exactly what News International has been doing and will continue to do under Rebekah Brooks’s leadership,” he said in a statement.
Murdoch said he was appointing Joel Klein, head of New York-based News Corp.’s education unit, to “provide oversight and guidance” to News International’s efforts to clean up its problems.
The assignment for Klein, a former assistant attorney general in the U.S. Justice Department and the ex-chancellor of New York City’s schools, came after Brooks appeared to have a conflict in investigating a matter in which she might be a possible participant. Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, competes with News Corp. units in providing financial news and information.
On July 7, a day after Brooks and her assistant allegedly began taking the boxes out of the News International archive, Rupert Murdoch’s son James, chairman of News International and deputy chief operating officer of the parent company, announced News of the World would be shut down following publication of that weekend’s edition.
On Friday July 8, Brooks met with employees of the tabloid. She explained the paper had to be closed because it had lost the confidence of readers and advertisers. She told employees, many of whom were about to lose their jobs, that a year from that time, it would be clear why the paper had to be closed.
Saturday July 9 is the date by which the last of the seven boxes of material were allegedly moved from the News International archive, according to the prosecutors’ charging summary. That was also the day when the final edition of the News of the World went to press, featuring the headline, “THANK YOU & GOODBYE.”
During the following week, Brooks’s position atop News International eroded. Rupert Murdoch declared upon arriving in London that weekend that his priority was to support her. According to her testimony as well as Murdoch’s, she offered to resign several times that week but he refused to accept. It was only on Friday, July 15, that she got her way.
When the police learned of Brooks’ impending departure, they asked William Lewis, general manager of the unit’s newspapers and the primary liaison with Scotland Yard, to have her office secured.
Members of News International’s in-house security team accompanied Brooks on her final visit to her 10th floor office. After her departure, the premises were secured.
From the day she left News International through the following Tuesday, July 19, when she testified before Parliament, Brooks and five others, including her husband, Charlie, allegedly sought to “conceal documents, computers and other electronic equipment” from Scotland Yard, according to prosecutors.
On Sunday, July 17, Brooks was arrested at her apartment in West London. The police searched her home at that time, standard procedure during previous arrests in the same probe, according to a News Corp. person familiar with the matter.
Brooks was arrested that day because the police wanted to limit her ability to testify before Parliament at an upcoming session about matters under investigation, according to another person familiar with the matter.
The following day, Monday July 18, The Guardian reported that a bag containing a computer, some paperwork and a phone had been found in a parking garage below a shopping center near Brooks’s home.
When Charlie Brooks tried to retrieve the bag, claiming that he owned the material inside, a security guard refused to release it and called the police, the Guardian reported.
Brooks and her husband lashed out at prosecutors the day they were accused, saying they were “baffled by the decision to charge” her in the matter, and describing the case as “an expensive sideshow” and “a witch hunt.”
“Prosecutors would have to prove she moved the boxes and then prove the information in them was detrimental to her,” said Mark Spragg, a civil and criminal litigation lawyer with Keystone Law in London. “They’re saying she’s covered her tracks illegally to prevent her being prosecuted for the actual offense of phone hacking. It seems back-to-front. I think that’s why she’s complaining bitterly about it.”