LONDON — Rebekah Brooks, a confidante of Rupert Murdoch, was charged Tuesday with interfering with a police investigation into a phone-hacking scandal that has rocked the media tycoon’s empire and sent shock waves through the British political establishment.
Brooks, 43, was charged with conspiring to remove boxes of archive records from Murdoch’s London headquarters, concealing material from detectives, and hiding documents, computers and other electronic equipment from police. If found guilty, she could face a prison sentence.
The charges against Brooks, her husband and four others are the first since police relaunched an investigation into alleged illegal practices at Murdoch’s British newspapers after accusations that the extent of wrongdoing had been covered up. All six are due to appear in court in London on June 13.
The news is a personal blow for the world’s most powerful media boss and an embarrassment for British Prime Minister David Cameron, who was close friends with Brooks and sent her text messages of support when the alleged offenses took place.
Murdoch, meanwhile, is facing increasing pressure in Britain. He has been forced to close one newspaper, withdraw a major takeover bid for a lucrative television group and been described in a parliamentary committee report as someone who is not fit to run a major international company.
Murdoch’s closeness to Brooks, instantly recognizable for her mane of flame-red hair, was highlighted last year when the mogul flew into London to tackle the hacking scandal, put his arm around her and declared that she was his top priority.
The charges relate to those frenzied days in July, when Murdoch shut down the 168-year-old News of the World, a top-selling Sunday tabloid, and Brooks was first arrested.
Police said Brooks faces three charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
Also charged were Brooks’s racehorse trainer husband Charlie Brooks, her secretary and other staff members, including her driver and security officials from News International, the British newspaper arm of Murdoch’s News Corp media empire.
Rebekah Brooks said she was baffled by the decision to charge her. “I cannot express my anger enough that those close to me have unfairly been dragged into this,” she said, emerging from her attorney’s offices with her husband.
Charlie Brooks, who attended school with Cameron at the exclusive Eton College, said that his wife was the subject of a “witch hunt” and that he and others were being used as scapegoats.
Dubbed by some Murdoch’s “fifth daughter”, Brooks edited the News of the World from 2000 to 2003 and went on to become the first female editor of the Sun daily tabloid, Britain’s most widely read newspaper, for six years.
With her close links to the upper echelons of British establishment, including a string of prime ministers and senior police officers, Brooks was promoted to run Murdoch’s British newspaper arm from 2009 to 2011.