LONDON, United Kingdom (AFP) – Rebekah Brooks, the former top aide to Rupert Murdoch and friend of British premier David Cameron, appeared in court for the first time Wednesday to face charges relating to the phone-hacking scandal.
Her appearance came amid fresh political shockwaves from the scandal, with a rift opening in the coalition government over dealings with Murdoch’s News Corp and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg testifying at a press ethics inquiry.
Brooks, 44, her racehorse trainer husband Charlie Brooks, 49, and four other people face charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by obstructing investigations into wrongdoing at the News of the World tabloid.
Brooks and her husband arrived at Westminster Magistrates Court in London in a black London taxi where a huge scrum of cameramen and reporters was waiting for them. Police whisked them past the queue for security.
She was wearing a green scarf and dark blue jacket and sat next to her husband, who wore a charcoal suit and navy tie, an AFP reporter in court said. The couple looked relaxed and were both smiling, unlike the other defendants.
After a short hearing, their first since they were charged on May 15, they were bailed to appear at Southwark Crown Court on June 22. All spoke only to confirm their dates of birth and addresses.
Rebekah Brooks faces three charges of removing boxes of material from the archive of News International, the UK newspaper arm of Murdoch’s News Corp, and trying to conceal documents, computers and other material from police.
The flame-haired Brooks edited the News of the World from 2000-2003 and then the Sun, Murdoch’s daily tabloid. She resigned as chief executive of News International in July, days after the weekly tabloid closed down in disgrace.
Charlie Brooks, Cheryl Carter, 48, Brooks’s personal assistant, Mark Hanna, the head of security at News International, Brooks’s chauffeur Paul Edwards, 47, who was employed by News International, and Daryl Jorsling, 39, who provided security for Brooks that was supplied by NI, all face one charge of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
The charges carry a potential term of life imprisonment in Britain.
Brooks moved in the highest circles of British politics, and testified to Britain’s Leveson Inquiry into press ethics inquiry last month about her close friendship with Conservative prime minister Cameron.
Clegg, the Liberal Democrat deputy prime minister in the coalition government, appeared before the inquiry on Wednesday where he initially answered questions about the relationship between politicians and the press.
“The idea that politicians and the press should operate in hermetically sealed silos is completely unrealistic,” he said.
Cameron is due to appear before the inquiry on Thursday, when he is likely to face scrutiny over his ties to Brooks — including the fact that he went riding on one of her horses.
He also faces pressure on Wednesday after the Liberal Democrats said they would not back under fire Conservative culture minister Jeremy Hunt over his handling of a bid for News Corp for control of pay-TV giant BSkyB.
Clegg told his lawmakers they could abstain from a vote introduced by the opposition Labour party calling for a probe into whether Hunt broke the ministerial code of conduct. Cameron has refused to hold any such probe.
The government is still likely to win Wednesday’s non-binding vote.
News Corp abandoned the bid when the hacking scandal blew up last year.
The charges against Brooks and the other five defendants all relate to early July 2011, a frantic period during which Murdoch closed down the News of the World after it emerged that it had hacked the phone of Milly Dowler, a murdered schoolgirl.
They are the first since Scotland Yard opened a huge new investigation into hacking and bribery in which more than 40 people have been arrested.
A News of the World journalist and a private detective were jailed for hacking in 2007 but the paper insisted they were rogue operators. – Katy Lee, Agence France-Presse