Wednesday 21 February 2018

'Bombproof' Brooks's resignation brings controversial career to end

Rebekah Brooks. Photo: PA
Rebekah Brooks. Photo: PA

Gordon Rayner in London

Rebekah Brooks's resignation yesterday brought to an end one of the most colourful and, ultimately, controversial careers in Fleet Street history.

Treated almost like a daughter by her boss Rupert Murdoch, she was seen as "bombproof" even after the media mogul closed down the 'News of the World'. As the billionaire and his prodigy walked away from the ruins of the biggest-selling newspaper in the English-speaking world, he was still assuring her that her job was safe.

But for those on the outside of News International looking in, the only surprise about her eventual demise was why it took Ms Brooks so long to pay the price for her failure to get a grip on the phone hacking scandal.

She had quit, she said, because her "desire to remain on the bridge" had made her a focal point for criticism of the company.

Ms Brooks is expected to leave with a £1m (e1.1m) golden goodbye and millions more in shares, but the money is unlikely to make up for the loss of the power the 43-year-old had relentlessly pursued as she went from secretary to chief executive in less than two decades.

Rebekah Wade, as she was until two years ago, was brought up near Warrington, Cheshire, and got her first job in Fleet Street in 1989 as a secretary at the 'News of the World'.

She quickly moved on to writing features for the newspaper's Sunday magazine, before switching to a commissioning role and moving up through the executive ranks until she was moved to 'The Sun' to become deputy editor in 1998.

Her ability as a journalist was at least equalled -- and her critics would say surpassed -- by her talent for networking. When she was still a secretary, she learnt to ride because her boss was a keen rider, then took golf lessons so she could play with another key executive. Sailing lessons followed once she discovered that Rupert Murdoch was a sailor who keeps a yacht moored near his New York home.

Captivating

"That's the way she operates," said one former colleague. "She gets right under the skin of the people she works for and spends every hour of every day trying to advance her career.

"There was one occasion when Rupert Murdoch's son, Lachlan, was on a sailing holiday in Italy and Rebekah got one of her reporters to fly out there to hand-deliver a painting of the yacht as a gift to him.

"She has a way of captivating people, including Rupert, and that was how she got to the top."

She counted Tony and Cherie Blair as personal friends, was on the Prince of Wales's guestlist when he celebrated his 50th birthday and spent evenings at showbusiness parties accompanied by her husband Ross Kemp, the former 'EastEnders' actor, whom she married in 2002 following a six-year engagement.

In 2000, still aged just 31, she returned to the 'News of the World' as its first female editor.

In 2002, following the disappearance of the schoolgirl Milly Dowler, the paper's journalists asked a private detective to hack into her mobile phone to listen to her voicemail messages and allegedly deleted some of them to make room for more. Ms Brooks would later claim to have known nothing about it.

What she did admit to knowing, when she moved to 'The Sun' as its editor in 2003, was that her reporters had paid police officers for information.

Chris Bryant, the Labour MP who was later a victim of phone-hacking, believes that admission in itself, made before a committee of MPs, should have forced her resignation, but she carried on regardless.

She again became the story in 2005 when she was arrested for an alleged assault on Mr Kemp. She was later released without charge.

Mr Murdoch seemed happy to forgive her lapses of judgment, and was also prepared to overlook the declining sales figures at the titles she edited: during her time at the 'News of the World' sales fell by almost 170,000; in her six years at 'The Sun' the tabloid lost 432,000 readers.

As an ever-increasing list of celebrities launched damages claims against the 'News of the World' for intercepting their voicemails, a fresh internal investigation unearthed a series of incriminating emails which Ms Brooks handed over to the police in January, on the same day that the newspaper's news editor, Ian Edmondson, was sacked.

Ms Brooks might not have realised it at the time, but she had effectively sealed her own fate. She may have been untouchable as far as Mr Murdoch was concerned, but the police were making it increasingly clear that no News International executive, past or present, was beyond their reach.

Andy Coulson was arrested on July 8, then Neil Wallis, his former deputy, was arrested on Thursday.

Ms Brooks, who has already offered to speak to the police as a witness, knows it is only a matter of time before she, too, is interviewed by detectives.

But one source close to Ms Brooks said the tipping point came yesterday, when Elisabeth Murdoch broke rank and told friends Ms Brooks had "f***** the company".

The Murdochs, it seemed, were finally turning against their protege, and Ms Brooks knew it was time to bow out.

Irish Independent

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