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Rebekah Brooks arrest: phone-hacking scandal isn't going to fade

Many media observers predicted that the News Corp. phone-hacking scandal would peter out. But Rebekah Brooks's arrest today indicate the inquiry is still very much alive.

By Staff writer / March 13, 2012

In this 2011 photo, former chief executive of News International, Rebekah Brooks leaves a hotel in central London.

Sang Tan/AP/File

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The re-arrest of Rebekah Brooks this morning suggests little official let-up in a British tabloid phone-hacking scandal that captured the world’s attention last July and threatens to drag Prime Minister David Cameron into questions about his ties to Ms. Brooks and other journalists. 

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The scandal proved to be a takedown of billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch and thwarted, at the last minute, his efforts to take over Britain’s most lucrative cable TV operation, an outcome that would have given his global empire unprecedented power in the United Kingdom.  

Ms. Brooks, former chief executive of the Rupert Murdoch-owned News International, was arrested by Scotland Yard at her home near Oxfordshire. Her husband, Charlie Brooks – a racehorse trainer who is an old, close friend of Mr. Cameron – was also arrested, along with four others. Mr. Brooks and Mr. Cameron are horse enthusiasts and school friends who still socialize together.  

The arrests came just as Mr. Cameron, whose private residence is close to the Brooks home, headed to the United States for a state visit with US President Obama.

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“Brooks's husband is a close friend of the [prime minister] and so far [Cameron] has been Teflon-plated,” says James Curran, director of the media studies center at the University of London.

Today’s arrests were for "suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice” – in layman's terms, an organized coverup.

The arrests are part of an official inquiry following moral outrage by the British public over revelations that News of the World journalists hacked a phone belonging to a murdered 13-year-old girl named Milly Dowler. British newspaper The Guardian broke the story in July and disclosed that the News of the World also sanctioned intrusions Into the personal lives of British celebrities and the families of British soldiers killed overseas. Scotland Yard estimates that the number of people revealed to be hacked is approaching 800.

The formal inquiry is headed by Lord Justice Leveson and is backed by the police investigation "Operation Wheeting." So far, no arrests have been made, but 23 persons have been held.

In an earlier inquiry, Brooks admitted that News Corp. had paid off London police for information, including etails of victims whose phones were then hacked. In the Dowler case, the News of the World hacked the phone of the murdered girl but did not tell her parents she had been killed, reportedly waiting instead to listen to phone messages.

As members of parliament called openly for her to step down, Brooks refused, but did so shortly before she was arrested for the first time last summer.

The significance of the scandal is multifaceted. It is seen as highlighting the way Mr. Murdoch and News International executives used their power and fear it inspired to influence British politics. It also touches on a crisis of journalistic ethics, revealing collaboration between the so-called "red top" newspapers and public officials, including police. 

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