REPORTING FROM LONDON -- Police investigating Britain’s phone-hacking scandal swooped down on a number of homes in an early-morning raid and arrested six people Tuesday, including a woman identified in media reports as Rebekah Brooks, the former head of Rupert Murdoch’s British newspapers.
Scotland Yard said all six suspects, five men and one woman, were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, suggesting that their probe into phone hacking has broadened to include an investigation into a possible cover-up by employees and executives at Murdoch-owned News International.
Brooks, 43, headed the company before resigning in disgrace in July after it emerged that one of its publications, the weekly News of the World, had illegally accessed the voicemail messages on the cellphone of a kidnapped teenager who was later found slain in 2002. Brooks was the tabloid’s editor at the time but has denied any knowledge of what happened.
To contain the fallout, Murdoch summarily shut down the News of the World. Brooks, a close Murdoch confidant and a personal friend of Prime Minister David Cameron, was arrested on suspicion of phone hacking a few days later but released on bail.
Authorities now suspect that the News of the World illegally tapped into the cellphones of hundreds of people in its ravenous hunger for scoops. Murdoch’s media empire has already shelled out millions to settle lawsuits brought against it by hacking victims whose ranks include high-profile politicians, movie stars and professional athletes.
In addition, the News of the World – just one of a raft of aggressive, sensation-seeking and often politically powerful tabloids in this country – is believed to have pried into the phones of families of fallen soldiers and murder victims, and hired private detectives to conduct surveillance on the paper’s perceived enemies.
Allegations of shady newsgathering practices have also spread to the News of the World’s sister tabloid, the Sun, Britain’s best-selling daily paper.
Critics allege that executives at News International have tried to thwart investigators by lying and destroying documents and company e-mails. Murdoch insists that his giant News Corp. is fully cooperating with the police.
Tuesday’s arrests took place in London and neighboring counties. Officers descended on five residences and one business between 5 and 7 a.m. and are searching various locations as part of their investigation.
One of the five men arrested has been identified in the British media as Brooks’ husband, Charlie, a racehorse trainer.
Last July, a security guard found a laptop computer and various documents that had been stuffed into a garbage bag and tossed into a trash can at the London apartment building where the Brookses maintained a flat. The guard turned the items over to police. Charlie Brooks subsequently tried to reclaim them, saying they had been tossed out mistakenly as the result of a mixup with an associate.
-- Henry Chu
Photo: Rebekah Brooks, former chief executive of News International, and her husband, Charlie Brooks, shown in 2011. Credit: Alan Crowhurst / Getty Images.