Rebekah Brooks, the former head of Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper wing and a key figure in the phone hacking crisis, is to face criminal charges over the scandal, it was announced Tuesday.
The Crown Prosecution Service said that Brooks "conspired with her husband, Charles Brooks, and others to pervert the course of justice."
Speaking at a press conference, Alison Levitt, the chief adviser to the Director of Public Prosecutions, said that Brooks and five others —her husband, her assistant, their chauffeur, their security and the head of security at News International — had all been charged. (A seventh person was arrested but is not being charged.)
She claimed that, between July 6 and 19th of 2011, Brooks and her assistant had illegally removed seven boxes of material from News International headquarters, and that the group had tried to conceal information from the police about the phone hacking scandal. The charges all stem from actions allegedly taken at the very height of the phone hacking scandal which had suddenly engulfed the entire Murdoch empire.
Levitt said that she had concluded that there was "sufficient evidence for there to be a realistic prospect of conviction" for the charges.
Brooks becomes by far the highest-profile member of the Murdoch inner circle to be criminally charged in connection with the scandal. She and the others are the first to face charges stemming from Operation Weeting, the police investigation into phone hacking that was launched in January of 2011.
Around that time, police found a bag with a computer, phone and documents in a bin near Brooks' London home. Charlie Brooks later tried to retrieve it from police, saying that it had accidentally wound up in the trash and had nothing to do with his wife.
In a statement, Brooks and her husband said, "We deplore this weak and unjust decision. After the further unprecedented posturing of the CPS we will respond later today after our return from the police station."
Later on Tuesday, Brooks appeared on the BBC and further denounced the charges.
"Whilst I have always respected the criminal justice system, you have to question whether this decision has been made on a proper impartial assessment of the evidence," she said. "Although I understand the need for a thorough investigation, I am baffled by the decision to charge me. However I cannot express my anger enough that those close to me have unfairly been dragged into this. As the details of the case emerge people will see today as an expensive sideshow, and a waste of public money as a result of this weak and unjust decision."
Her husband, Charlie, also spoke out, saying that the charges were "an attempt to use me and others as scapegoats, the effect of which is to ratchet up the pressure on my wife, who I believe is the subject of a witch hunt." He added that he had "grave doubts" that his wife would "ever get a fair trial, given the volume of biased commentary which she has been subject to."
All the suspects face a criminal trial before a jury. A conviction on the charge of perverting the course of justice could, in extreme cases, lead to a life sentence, though the average sentence is 10 months. Brooks and the others will almost certainly serve at most a few years if they are found guilty.
The charges represent a humiliating nadir for the woman who rocketed through the ranks at News International and became one of Murdoch's most crucial deputies.
Brooks rose from being a secretary at the News of the World to editing the paper. She thrived in its ruthless, hyper-competitive atmosphere. It was during her tenure that the News of the World hacked into Milly Dowler's phone, an act that would eventually lead to her downfall nearly ten years later.
She was then made editor of The Sun, perhaps the most powerful title in Murdoch's stable of newspapers, before being promoted once again to run all of News International. Brooks became friends with top politicians on all sides of the aisle. (Testifying before the Leveson Inquiry just last week, Brooks described how current Prime Minister David Cameron would send her text messages signed "LOL.")
She was important enough to Rupert Murdoch that, when he was asked what his top priority was at the peak of the phone hacking scandal, he infamously pointed to her and said, "this one."
Brooks was eventually forced to resign when the scandal exploded. Questions have swirled about the extent of her knowledge of the criminal practices at the newspapers she oversaw. Brooks has always maintained that she was not aware it went beyond a single "rogue reporter."
Below, read the charges, from the Crown Prosecution Service:
CHARGE 1 - CONSPIRACY TO PERVERT THE COURSE OF JUSTICE
Rebekah Brooks between 6th July and 19th July 2011 conspired with Charles Brooks, Cheryl Carter, Mark Hanna, Paul Edwards, Daryl Jorsling and persons unknown to conceal material from officers of the Metropolitan Police Service.
CHARGE 2 - CONSPIRACY TO PERVERT THE COURSE OF JUSTICE
Rebekah Brooks and Cheryl Carter between 6th July and 9th July 2011 conspired together permanently to remove seven boxes of material from the archive of News International.
CHARGE 3 - CONSPIRACY TO PERVERT THE COURSE OF JUSTICE
Rebekah Brooks, Charles Brooks, Mark Hanna, Paul Edwards and Daryl Jorsling conspired together and with persons unknown, between 15th July and 19th July 2011, to conceal documents, computers and other electronic equipment from officers of the Metropolitan Police Service.
All these matters relate to the ongoing police investigation into allegations of phone hacking and corruption of public officials in relation to the News of the World and The Sun newspapers.