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Murdoch insider Rebekah Brooks charged over phone-hacking inquiry

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN
May 16, 2012 -- Updated 0235 GMT (1035 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Political class and UK press are too cozy, ex-Blair official says
  • Rebekah Brooks' husband says she's the subject of a "witch hunt"
  • The couple and four others are charged with plotting to hide documents and computers
  • The charges are the first in connection with a police phone hacking investigation

London (CNN) -- Former News International chief Rebekah Brooks blasted British prosecutors Tuesday for charging her with obstructing the investigation into phone hacking at media mogul Rupert Murdoch's British newspapers, calling the case "an expensive sideshow."

Brooks, whose husband, driver and personal assistant also face charges, said she is "baffled" and angered by the decision to charge "those closest to me."

"One day the details of this case will emerge, and people will see today as nothing more than an expensive sideshow -- a waste of public money as a result of an unjust and weak decision," she told reporters outside her lawyer's office.

Her husband, Charles, said his wife is the victim of a "witch hunt," and that the charges against him and others are "an attempt to use me and others as scapegoats, the effect of which is to ratchet up the pressure on my wife."

Amanda Brooks testifies before an inquiry on May 11
Rebekah Brooks faces conspiracy charges

"I am confident that the lack of evidence against me will be borne out in court," he said. "But I have grave doubts that my wife will ever get a fair trial, given the volume of biased commentary which she has been subject to."

Brooks, her husband and a total of four employees are accused of plotting to remove seven boxes of documents from News International offices and hide computers and documents from police. They are charged in connection with British police investigations into phone hacking and police bribery, which have been going on for more than a year.

In addition to her driver and assistant, the charges include one of her security guards and the head of security for News International, the News Corp. subsidiary that publishes Murdoch's British newspapers.

Brooks faces three counts of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, while the other four suspects face two counts each of the same charge.

The maximum sentence for the charges they face is life in prison, the Crown Prosecution Service said, but a British lawyer said a more likely sentence is four to 18 months. Lawyer James Lofthouse said the longest sentence he could recall was 42 months.

Separately, police announced they had arrested two more people Tuesday in connection with the bribery investigation. The man and woman were arrested at their home in London, police said.

The arrests were based on information provided by News Corp., police said.

Brooks became chief executive of News International after editing two Murdoch tabloids, the News of the World and the Sun. She resigned last summer and was arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice in March.

Alison Levitt of the Crown Prosecution Service said Tuesday that prosecutors felt there was "a realistic prospect of conviction" of the six suspects.

Police gave prosecutors files on seven suspects in March. Levitt said prosecutors had decided not to press charges against one of them.

Police opened investigations into phone hacking, computer hacking and bribery of public officials last year and have arrested dozens of people. Following Tuesday's announcement, 40 others are waiting for police to decide whether to recommend that prosecutors press charges for phone hacking or corruption.

In addition to the man told by prosecutors Tuesday that they would not press charges against him, three other people have been arrested and released, with police saying they will take no further action.

Also on Tuesday, the director of communications for former Prime Minister Tony Blair told CNNI's Christiane Amanpour that Britain's political elite had developed a too-cozy relationship with the press, and that he hoped "some form of proper regulation" would arise from the hacking and bribery scandal.

"I've been arguing for some years (that the relationship) got itself into a very, very bad place and I hope it can lead to change," Alastair Campbell said in an interview aired on "Amanpour."

"It's not just about Rupert Murdoch," he said. "We have a lot of newspapers in a geographically fairly small country. ... And I think any political leader has to take account of the role they play in the political debate."

In her testimony before the inquiry, Brooks detailed her many messages and meetings, even her yachting, with current Prime Minister David Cameron.

Said Campbell, "I think David Cameron is on the record as saying that he got too close and he says that all politicians at times got too close."

Amanpour also noted that Campbell's ex-boss last year became godfather to one of Murdoch's young daughters.

"That happened after Tony Blair ceased being prime minister," Campbell said, but he added: "I accept that it shows a closeness."

He said Blair and the Labour Party sought and received endorsements from Murdoch's papers for the three elections they won.

"The truth is, when we were in opposition, we'd been out of power for a long time, the Labour Party that I worked for had really bad relations with the Murdoch press," Campbell said. "And when Tony took over, we did decide we were going to try a different approach."

He said he believed the Murdoch press "backed us because they knew we were going to win."

"We didn't win because they backed us, but it doesn't harm you."

CNNI's Lucky Gold contributed to this report.

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