If you felt a small earthquake just now, it was the tectonic plates of press and power moving in the UK. Rebekah Brooks, who resigned just Friday as chief executive of News International, the UK publishing unit of News Corp. (NSDQ: NWS), was arrested today by Scotland Yard in a pre-arranged move. The possible charges, according to multiple reports: suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications & corruption allegations. The BBC reports plans for the arrest were made after her resignation and we have confirmed that the decision for Brooks to leave was made without News Corp knowing she was about to be arrested.
Her arrest may have put added pressure on Sir Paul Stephenson, the head of Scotland Yard, who announced his resignation hours later. Stephenson has been criticized loudly for the Yard’s handling of the hacking investigation — or, better to say, its lack of handling, and the alleged corruption of police. In particular, his relationship with Neil Wallis, the former deputy editor of News of the World who was arrested Thursday, has been under scrutiny; Wallis was a consultant to Scotland Yard after he left the tabloid and is also reported to have shared information in the investigation with Brooks.
He cited Wallis in his resignation (text): “I have taken this decision as a consequence of the ongoing speculation and accusations relating to the Met’s links with News International at a senior level and in particular in relation to Mr Neil Wallis who as you know was arrested in connection with Operation Weeting last week.”
Stephenson is due to face Parliament Tuesday.
For Brooks, the conspiracy charge in particular suggests that more arrests are coming in circles close to Rupert Murdoch. Conspiracy is a party game — not solitaire. (Ditto for bribery.) One of the biggest questions: could it reach as high as son James, the chairman of News Intl.? Until recently, the Murdochs defended Brooks publicly. Or is there any way this aspect, at least, can be contained internally to Brooks and the people who worked for her at News Intl.?
Another question: does this throw a spanner in plans for Brooks to appear with both Murdochs before a Parliament committee investigating allegations and admissions of phone hacking. In the U.S., she would have to take the Fifth Amendment throughout and the FBI or other authorities typically would have worked with or at least notified the congressional committee to avoid any perception of trying to disrupt that inquiry.
Also, it is rare for Scotland Yard to arrest someone on suspicion of a non-violent crime on a Sunday. (According to later reports, late Friday Brooks made an appointment to be questioned; she did not expect to be arrested.)
It seems out of tune, until you remember that the police are under fire by Parliament and others for failures in the hacking investigation and for corruption that includes reports of some officers taking bribes. It is beginning to stand out that no former or current police have been charged despite the number of journalists –10 so far — arrested under that suspicion. (For the best picture yet of how entwined the two are, read Don Van Natta Jr.’s weekend expose in the New York Times about the scandal at Scotland Yard.)
Brooks resigned in the UK Friday hours ahead of Les Hinton, the former executive chairman of News Intl., who resigned in the U.S. as CEO of Dow Jones and publisher of the Wall Street Journal. Both were close to Rupert Murdoch: Brooks, viewed from the outside as a “fifth daughter” and Hinton, a trusted friend and colleague of more than 50 years often brought in to run news enterprises that were high on the Murdoch agenda. Hinton headed News Intl. when Brooks was editor of News of the World, the paper that published its last edition a week ago amid a massive scandal of phone hacking and other allegations, including bribery, and during the original inquiry.
Statement from Brooks’ PR (via Guardian): “Rebekah is assisting the police with their enquiries. She attended a London police station voluntarily.
It was a pre-arranged appointment. We are unable to comment further as it is an ongoing police investigation.”
News Corp. and News Intl. had no direct statement about Brooks’ arrest, but reiterated “our continued intention to cooperate fully with the police investigation.”
Overtime: Guardian‘s live blog leads in tracking breaking news. Bloomberg BusinessWeek has one of the best infographics yet. The BBC’s roster of key players is a good cheat sheet. NYTimes.com has an excellent interactive chronology. Need a refresher course in how we got here? Our interactive timeline tracks our coverage the last two weeks; also, here’s our News Corp. archive.