LONDON — Rebekah Brooks, a former top executive with Rupert Murdoch’s News International, was among six people arrested Tuesday in one of the largest police sweeps in a long-running phone-hacking scandal, British news media reported.
Brooks, 43, a former editor of the Murdoch-owned newspapers the Sun and the News of the World, and her husband, Charlie Brooks, 49, a racehorse trainer and friend of British Prime Minister David Cameron, were identified by the media as two of those arrested in connection with an investigation dubbed “Operation Weeting.”
As is customary, the Metropolitan Police declined to name the suspects but did say in a statement that a 43-year-old woman and a 49-year-old man were arrested at their homes in Oxfordshire, where the Brookses live.
In the statement, police also confirmed that six people, ages 38 to 49, were arrested in dawn raids in London, Hampshire, Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire “on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice .”
Operation Weeting is one of three police inquiries related to the phone-hacking scandal that has rocked Britain’s establishment and led to the closure in July of the News of the World. Allegations that the tabloid’s reporters had illegally intercepted hundreds of voice mails triggered several high-profile resignations, including those of Brooks, then News International’s chief executive, and Andy Coulson, Cameron’s communications director and a former News of the World editor.
According to observers, the Brookses’ arrests could further call into question the judgment of Cameron, who is in Washington on an official visit.
Cameron’s friendship with the couple was pushed into the spotlight this month after reports that Scotland Yard had lent Rebekah Brooks a retired police horse named Raisa.
After much prevarication by his office, Cameron conceded that he had ridden Raisa on the Brookses’ rural estate. Quickly nicknamed “horsegate,” the situation was widely seen as reflecting the cozy relationship between the police, politicians and journalists that has marked the phone-hacking scandal.
“I have known Charlie Brooks, the husband of Rebekah Brooks, for over 30 years, and he is a good friend, and he is a neighbor in the constituency. We live a few miles apart,” Cameron told reporters this month, stressing that he last rode with Brooks before becoming prime minister in 2010.
Rebekah Brooks, who is often described as being like a daughter to Murdoch, was arguably the most powerful woman in the British newspaper industry before she resigned last summer. Within days of stepping down as the head of Murdoch’s British operation, she was arrested on suspicion of phone hacking and corruption. She was later released on bail and has denied any knowledge of illegal activity at News International.
Murdoch has continued to back his former protege. When horsegate erupted, he sprang to her defense, tweeting: “Now they are complaining about R Brooks saving an old horse from the glue factory!”
News International declined to confirm reports of the Brookses’ arrests, but a spokeswoman said that Mark Hanna, News International’s head of security, was among those arrested Tuesday morning.
With three police investigations and a government-commissioned probe of media ethics underway, barely a week goes by in Britain without further allegations of wrongdoing by the nation’s tabloid journalists.
A spokesman for Scotland Yard said that as of Tuesday, 22 people had been arrested in Operation Weeting, while 23 had been arrested in Operation Elveden, an investigation of journalists allegedly bribing public officials. Three more people have been arrested in Operation Tuleta, an investigation of breaches of privacy and computer hacking.