Rebekah Brooks, the former head of News Corp.’s U.K. publishing unit, said she discussed phone hacking cases with Prime Minister David Cameron in 2010, months before the scandal forced her to resign.
Brooks, 43, told a media-ethics inquiry that she had a general discussion because Cameron was concerned about an increase in civil lawsuits over the issue. She said he later sent “indirect messages” offering her support when she resigned from the company in July 2011. She was arrested two days later and hasn’t been charged.
Phone hacking had “been on the news that day and I explained the story behind the news,” Brooks told the inquiry today in London. “If you go back into the chronology of the phone-hacking situation, that was when the civil cases were coming in and being made newsworthy.”
The hearings, called for by Cameron in the wake of revelations that the News of the World tabloid intercepted the mobile phone voice mail of a murdered teenager, put the spotlight on News Corp.’s close ties to the government as the inquiry examines the media’s relationship with lawmakers. News Corp.’s critics and victims have argued its often cozy links to government prevented the extent of the hacking scandal from being uncovered sooner.
The civil lawsuits Brooks discussed with Cameron were filed be celebrities whose phones were hacked to get stories. Evidence in the cases revealed the hacking involved far more victims and journalists than the company claimed after a reporter was jailed for the practice in 2007.
Lots of Love
Brooks also said she exchanged text messages with Cameron about once week, increasing to about twice a week during the 2010 general election. Cameron signed off his texts with “LOL, for lots of love,” Brooks said. He stopped doing so after she told him it meant “laugh out loud,” she said.
Brooks and Cameron also met occasionally in the English countryside, because she went there on the weekends and he went to visit his constituents, she said. She also said he attended his private birthday party in 2010.
One of Cameron’s messages to Brooks after she resigned said, “Sorry I couldn’t have been as loyal to you as I have been, but Ed Miliband had me on the run,” the inquiry’s lawyer, Robert Jay, said today, referring to the leader of the opposition Labour Party. Brooks agreed that was the “gist” of the message.
Andy Coulson, who edited the now-defunct News of the World tabloid when the scandal started and resigned in 2007, testified yesterday. He said Cameron asked him that year a single question about phone hacking before offering him a job as press chief for the Conservative party, then in opposition.
Surprise Birthday Party
Brooks said she also received messages of support from former Prime Minister Tony Blair, and that he once attended a surprise birthday party for her. She said she thought she had three private dinners with Blair toward the end of his time in office.
Brooks, who edited News Corp.’s Sun tabloid from 2003 to 2009 before taking the top role at the London-based News International unit, said her ties to lawmakers didn’t affect her ability to hold politicians to account in the press.
“If a politician or a prime minister ever put a friendship with an executive of a media company in front of his or her ability to do their professional duties properly, then that is their failing,” Brooks said. “And if a journalist ever compromised their role as a journalist through friendship then that is their failing.”
Wendi, Elisabeth Murdoch
The former executive answered detailed questions about her social encounters with lawmakers and people close to them, including a meeting with former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s wife Sarah, News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch’s wife Wendi and Murdoch’s daughter Elisabeth Murdoch.
“We all knew each other, but we didn’t meet as a group like that very often,” Brooks said. “In fact, I think probably once.”
The inquiry, now in its third phase, will avoid questions about voice-mail interceptions because Brooks faces potential criminal charges. She and Coulson, who has also been arrested, both deny the claims.
Rupert Murdoch and his son James, who once led News Corp.’s U.K. unit, testified at the inquiry last month. The elder Murdoch said Cameron, when he was the opposition leader, flew on Rupert’s son-in-law’s plane and stopped off in Santorini, Greece, to meet with him on a yacht. Brooks said she was there too.
Cameron and his top ministers last week won permission from Judge Brian Leveson, who is overseeing the inquiry, to have “core participant” status in the probe, meaning they have advance access to prepared witness statements and documents. The government sought an emergency hearing to make the request.
Brooks, arrested last year in the probes into phone hacking and bribery by News Corp.’s journalists in Britain, was arrested a second time in March with her husband Charlie for on suspicion of conspiring to pervert the course of justice. About 45 other people have been arrested in the investigations, including Brooks’s longtime personal assistant.
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