Officers from Scotland Yard arrested a 47-year-old woman early Friday morning in Essex, a county just east of London. Police said she was the 17th person to be arrested as part of Operation Weeting, the official investigation into phone hacking.
But unlike previous arrests of journalists suspected of illegally accessing private voicemail messages, the woman was brought in for questioning under suspicion of attempting to pervert the course of justice, police said. No further details were given.
Following usual procedure, Scotland Yard declined to release the woman's name. But the BBC and other media identified her as Cheryl Carter, a longtime assistant to various executives at News International, the British subsidiary of Murdoch's giant News Corp.
In particular, Carter served for a period as an assistant to Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of the now-defunct News of the World tabloid, where hacking into phones was allegedly practiced on an industrial scale in the relentless hunt for scoops. Brooks headed the newspaper at the time that a private investigator employed by the tabloid intercepted voicemails left on the cellphone of a murdered schoolgirl.
Brooks was arrested last year in connection with the long-running hacking scandal, which led not only to the closing down of the News of the World but the resignation of the head of Scotland Yard and a public grilling of Murdoch by members of Parliament.
It also triggered an inquiry into media practices and the often cozy relationships between politicians, police and the press. Earlier this week, a report commissioned by Scotland Yard warned officers against fraternizing with reporters, especially where alcohol was involved.
"Late-night carousing, long sessions, yet another bottle of wine at lunch -- these are all longstanding media tactics to get you to spill the beans,'' the report said, adding tersely: "Avoid."
-- Henry Chu
Photo: Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of the News of the World tabloid, leave Murdoch's London residence in July, at the height of the phone-hacking scandal. Credit: Sang Tan / Associated Press