Defiant Rebekah Brooks 'baffled' by phone-hacking charge

Rebekah Brooks gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry last week
Rebekah Brooks gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry last week
Alex Stevenson By

Former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks has dismissed her criminal charges over the phone-hacking scandal as an "expensive sideshow".

In a defiant statement after being formally charged for conspiring to pervert the course of justice Mrs Brooks said she was "baffled" by the decision - and hit out at the "unjust and weak decision" of the Crown Prosecution Service.

It announced earlier today that Mrs Brooks and her husband, the racecourse trainer Charlie Brooks, are charged with concealing material from Met police officers between July 6th and July 19th 2011.

Mr Brooks claimed his wife was the subject of a "witchhunt".

"There are 172 police officers working on this so it's no surprise to me the pressure is on to bring prosecutions, however weak they may be," he said.

"I have no doubt the lack of evidence against me will be borne out in court but I have grave reservations that my wife can ever get a fair trial, given the huge volume of biased commentary that she is constantly subjected to."

Also facing this charge are Cheryl Carter, Mrs Brooks' former personal assistant; Mark Hanna, the head of security at News International; Paul Edwards, Mrs Brooks' chauffeur who was employed by News International; and Daryl Jorsling, who provided security for Mrs Brooks.

A second charge alleges that Mrs Brooks and Ms Carter "conspired together permanently to remove seven boxes of material from the archive of News International" between July 6th and July 9th 2011.

A third charge relating to Mr and Mrs Brooks, Mr Hanna, Mr Edwards and Mr Jorsling alleges that documents, computers and other electronic equipment were concealed from Met officers between July 15th and July 19th 2011.

"I cannot express my anger today that those closest to me have been dragged into this unfairly," Mrs Brooks said.

"Even News International's harshest critics can't wish to see people today with no involvement of the central issues be treated like this and be involved like this."

Alison Levitt QC, the principal legal adviser to the director of public prosecutions, announced this morning that she had decided sufficient evidence existed for a "realistic prospect of conviction".

Ms Carter's lawyer said in a statement: "Cheryl has today been charged with one alleged offence of attempting to pervert the course of justice.

"She vigorously denies the commission of that offence. Cheryl would like to thank her family and friends for their continued support during this most unhappy period."

Conspiring to pervert the course of justice carries a potential jail sentence. An initial hearing at Westminster magistrates court is expected in the next few weeks.

Mrs Brooks is the highest-profile of the suspects whose files have been assessed by the Crown Prosecution Service.

She was arrested on March 13th on suspicion of conspiring to pervert the course of justice under Operation Weeting, the Metropolitan police's probe into phone-hacking begun in January 2011.

 Mrs Brooks served as editor of News of the World from 2000 to 2003, as editor of the Sun from 2003 to 2009 and as chief executive of News International from 2009 until her resignation at the height of the phone-hacking scandal in July 2011.

She was quizzed for five hours last Friday by the Leveson inquiry's counsel, Robert Jay, but direct questioning on phone-hacking was avoided because of the ongoing criminal investigation.

Mr Jay did ask Mrs Brooks about whether she accepted phone-hacking at the News of the World had gone beyond the single 'rogue reporter' Clive Goodman, the only journalist at the paper to have been jailed for the offence. She replied that News International had already acknowledged that was the case.

Mrs Brooks also confirmed she discussed phone-hacking with David Cameron in 2010, when the prime minister had expressed interest in the civil cases being brought against News International.

There have been over 40 arrests made by Operation Weeting so far, including the prime minister's former communications chief Andy Coulson.


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