How Rupert Murdoch's Top Tabloid Boss Could End Up in Prison

Last Updated Jul 7, 2011 5:51 PM EDT

Before Rupert Murdoch shut down the News of the World tabloid today, he placed the most conflicted executive he could find in charge of News Corp.'s (NWS)'s internal probe into the phone-hacking scandal -- Rebekah Brooks, the flame-haired CEO of his News International unit.

Brooks was the editor of News of the World during the period in which its reporters surreptitiously listened to the voicemails of murdered girls, the lawyer for a lover of Princess Diana, the families' of dead British soldiers and various celebrities. She could end up in prison.

British police believe up to 4,000 hacking incidents occurred, raising the question of how Brooks could not have known how her reporters got their scoops.

News' internal probe, of course, is merely an academic affair, especially as the newspaper is now defunct, having lost its advertising base. Police are investigating allegations that News of the World paid £30,000 to police officers to leak details of ongoing investigations.

Brooks herself in 2003 told a House of Commons Select Committee that her reporters were entitled to pay bribes and use covert methods to get information if it was in the public interest:
Ms Wade made her admission in response to a question from Chris Bryant, the Labour MP for Rhondda. "We have paid the police for information in the past," she said. The MP asked if it would happen in the future; Andy Coulson, editor of the News of the World, interjected and said: "We have always operated within the code and within the law."
Coulson was forced to resign as Prime Minister David Cameron's communications director because of his links to the affair. He will be arrested July 8, according to The Guardian. London's Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson now says he wants to prosecute those responsible. News of the World private investigator Glenn Mulcaire has already served time for the scandal.

Brooks' breathtaking justification for leading the internal News probe is that she was on vacation on two separate occasions when the voicemails of murdered 13-year-old Milly Dowler and the families of murdered schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were listened to by News of the World staff.

Murdoch's choice of Brooks to clean house at News of the World reveals how deeply dysfunctional his management style is. Murdoch has previously defended Brooks despite her obvious conflicts in the hacking scandal.

She's also a rather odd personality, having once been arrested for allegedly beating her husband, the soap-opera actor Ross Kemp, although she was not charged. The satirical muckraking magazine Private Eye reported this week that at age 43 Brooks is attempting to become pregnant with her new husband, racehorse trainer and author Charlie Brooks, which gives her an excellent reason to step down from the company while the police decide what to do with her.

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