Former Rupert Murdoch aide Rebekah Brooks, her husband and four others were charged on Tuesday with trying to conceal evidence in the first prosecutions to emerge from Britain’s phone hacking scandal.
In an angry public appearance, the former News International chief executive and editor of the News of the World said she was “baffled” by the charges, while her racehorse trainer spouse Charlie branded the case a “witch-hunt”.
“I can’t express my anger enough that those closest to me have been dragged into this unfairly,” the flame-haired 43-year-old told reporters, standing beside her husband outside their lawyer’s office.
“One day the details of the case will emerge and people will see today as nothing more than an expensive sideshow, and a waste of public money as a result of a weak and unjust decision,” she said.
The charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice carry a maximum prison sentence of life imprisonment and are a stunning fall from grace for the woman who was once dubbed media tycoon Murdoch’s “fifth daughter”.
They are also a political headache for Prime Minister David Cameron, whose close friendship with Rebekah and Charlie Brooks was probed just last week by a judge-led inquiry into the ethics of the British press.
Senior prosecutor Alison Levitt said Brooks allegedly hid material including computers and other electronic devices from police, but added that there was “sufficient evidence for there to be a realistic prospect of conviction”.
The others to be charged are Cheryl Carter, 48, Brooks’s personal assistant; Mark Hanna, head of security at NI; Brooks’s chauffeur Paul Edwards, 47, who was employed by NI, and Daryl Jorsling, 39, who provided security for Brooks that was supplied by NI.
Police said they were due to appear at a London magistrates court on June 13.
A seventh person arrested was released without charge.
The charges all relate to early July 2011, a frantic period during which Murdoch closed down the News of the World in disgrace after it emerged that it had hacked the phone of Milly Dowler, a schoolgirl who was murdered.
Brooks was arrested on charges of phone hacking and bribery days after Britain’s biggest-selling newspaper shut down, and subsequently quit News International, the British newspaper wing of Murdoch’s US-based News Corp.
She remains on police bail on those charges.
Her career began on the bottom rung of Murdoch’s empire more than two decades ago but she rose quickly and edited the News of the World from 2000 to 2003, and The Sun, its daily sister tabloid.
Brooks also moved in the highest circles of British politics, and testified to a press ethics inquiry just last week about her close relationship with Cameron.
Cameron and Charlie Brooks had been family friends for years, having met at the elite Eton college. He attended the Brooks’ wedding in 2009.
She told the inquiry that Cameron used to text her “LOL”, believing that it meant “lots of love”, while Cameron had offered his commiserations when Brooks resigned from NI.
The prime minister’s spokesman refused to discuss the charges on Tuesday.
“It’s an ongoing investigation and it would be completely improper for me to comment,” the spokesman said.
Levitt said Brooks was charged with conspiring to conceal material from police between July 6 and July 19, 2011.
Brooks and Carter were charged with conspiring to remove seven boxes of material from the archives of News International, the British newspaper wing of Murdoch’s US-based News Corp. empire, between the same dates.
All five except Carter were also charged with conspiring to “conceal documents, computers and other electronic equipment from officers” between July 15 and 19, 2011.
Carter said in a statement that she “vigorously denies” the charges, while Hanna said he would be “totally exonerated”.
The charges announced Tuesday are the first since Scotland Yard opened a huge new investigation into hacking and bribery in which more than 40 people have been arrested.
A News of the World journalist and a private detective were jailed for hacking in 2007 but the paper insisted they were rogue operators.
The arrests continued on Tuesday, with police detaining a British customs official and a woman as part of the bribery probe.