Tuesday, March 13, 2012

#Leveson Inquiry:Scotland Yard’s inquiry into phone hacking moved into a dramatic new phase of investigating a possible cover up at the top of Rupert Murdoch’s British newspapers.

Rebekah Brooks was arrested in a dawn raid at her Oxfordshire home today as Scotland Yard’s inquiry into phone hacking moved into a dramatic new phase of investigating a possible cover up at the top of Rupert Murdoch’s British newspapers.
The 43-year-old former editor of The Sun, who recently became a mother, was one of six people including her husband, racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks, detained by detectives from the Yard’s Operation Weeting on the serious charge of suspected conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

The arrests, which took place between 5am and 7am and followed consultations with the Crown Prosecution Service, is a significant escalation in the gravity of the offences being considered by police. Among those arrested were two current News International employees, including the company’s head of security, Mark Hanna.

The Independent understands police now believe there may have been a plot to conceal the extent of voicemail interception at the News of the World after the launch of Weeting 14 months ago. Detectives are believed to be investigating the handling within NI of sensitive data relating to phone hacking, including the activities of staff during an arrest last year.
Prime Minister David Cameron, who is a long-standing friend of Mr Brooks and part of the couple’s social circle in the Cotswolds, distanced himself from the latest developments as he flew to America. A spokesman said: “It is an operational matter for the police. You wouldn't expect him to comment on it.”

Downing Street was last week forced to admit after several days of dodging the issue that Mr Cameron had ridden Raisa, a horse loaned to Mrs Brooks by the Metropolitan Police.

Mrs Brooks, who is also a former editor of the NOTW, resigned as chief executive of NI last July shortly before she was arrested by Weeting officers on suspicion of conspiring to hack voicemails and making illegal payments to police. On that occasion, she was held for nine hours after being asked to attend a central London police station with her lawyer by prior appointment.

Earlier, no such courtesies were shown to the Yard’s targets as they were unceremoniously roused from their beds and teams of officers began searches of their homes before they were taken for questioning across south east England and London. Mrs Brooks and her husband, whose daughter was born in January after a surrogate pregnancy, were taken to separate police stations after being arrested at their farmhouse in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire.

A spokesman for Mrs Brooks, who in less than a year has seen her position change from one of Britain’s most powerful women to a suspect for three criminal offences, declined to comment on her arrest. Her lawyers insisted last year that she had committed
Scotland Yard declined to discuss the reason behind the arrest of Mr Brooks, who has no formal links to NI beyond his wife. His arrest ruined plans to attend the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival today, an engagement which he described in his Daily Telegraph column on Monday as being the “happiest moment of my year”.

The Independent revealed last November that the Met was continuing to hold a laptop computer and an iPad which were found dumped in a bin in a private underground car park near the London home of the Brooks on 18 July last year - the day after Mrs Brooks was arrested for the first time. It is understood that CCTV footage covering the hours prior to the discovery of the computers has also been retained.

Through his public relations representative, Mr Brooks, 49, insisted that the equipment belonged to him and had been accidentally left in the wrong place by a friend who was returning them.

He added that the computers had “nothing to do” with his wife.

Today’s arrests do not relate to material provided to police by News Corp’s Management Standards Committee, which has passed material to the Yard including millions of internal NI emails.

But the company has faced growing claims that it sought to destroy material, including millions of emails, at a time when it was increasingly beset by allegations and lawsuits related to phone hacking by the NOTW. Court documents revealed last month show that the company drew up a policy in November 2009 to “eliminate in a consistent manner” emails “that could be unhelpful in the context of future litigation”.

In a statement to staff, current NI chief executive Tom Mockridge confirmed the arrest of Mr Hanna and said it was providing its arrested employees with “legal support”.

Mrs Brooks has consistently denied knowing about the voicemail hacking prior to the arrest in August 2006 of private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, who was later jailed along with the NOTW’s royal editor, Clive Goodman. Last month, police watchdogs announced they are investigating whether a detective who worked on that original and flawed Yard inquiry gave inside information to Mrs Brooks about the hacking probe.

Prior to today’s arrests, two other people with NI links  - Mr Mulcaire and Mrs Brooks’ former personal assistant Cheryl Carter - had been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, which carries a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.