Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of News International, is to be charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice along with five others (including her husband).
The charges is that she tried to conceal evidence from police conducting investigations into phone hacking and bribes to public officials. Brooks and her co-defendants will appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 13 June. The potential maximum sentence for this crime is life, but those convicted of it serve an average of 10 months in jail.
The charges are the first to be made since “Operation Weeting”, the police investigation into the phone hacking scandal, began in January 2011. The other individuals charged include Mark Hanna, News International’s head of security.
On Friday 11 May, Brooks revealed at the Leveson Inquiry that David Cameron had personally sent her a message of commiseration when she resigned from her position at News International in July 2011, telling her to “keep her head up”.
The admission followed previous revelations of the extent of the relationship between Cameron and Brooks, including the farcical “Horsegate”.
Brooks and her husband had been loaned a semi-retired police horse by Scotland Yard, and David Cameron rode it while visiting them on their farm in the Cotswolds. (Cameron initially refused to admit this).
A close personal friendship between the Prime Minister and the head of the country’s most powerful media empire is troubling enough by itself. When that individual is also someone accused of attempting to destroy evidence that implicates them and their company in illegal practices, including phone hacking and bribery, a close connection between them and any public official represents an affront to democracy.
That she was on close enough terms with the upper echelons of Scotland Yard to secure the loan of a police horse is also a disgraceful fact.
Although the charges are the first brought against Operation Weeting arrestees, 23 people have so far been arrested as part of the operation, along with 22 arrested in connection with Operation Elveden, a separate police investigation into bribery. More charges are likely to follow.
The picture, then, is of an enormous corporate media monolith controlling vast swathes of media output in Britain, presided over by an alleged criminal with a close personal friendship with senior figures within the British state. That level of collusion and enmeshment between those who control the mass media and the state has dangerous implications for democracy.
Brooks will answer her charges in court. For his role in the scandal, Cameron should resign.
Even those of us opposed to the prison system will find it difficult not to crack a smile if Brooks and her cronies are sent down for what they have done.
Let us hope these arrests will open up a debate on why democracy cannot function properly while the media, a major factor in shaping public opinion, is owned, and operated for the profit of union-bashing scumbags like Rupert Murdoch, to reflect their prejudices, to promote their interests, and to seal their friendships with elected politicians.
Real justice will only be served when the Murdoch media empire of which Brooks was part is broken up and the mass media taken into public ownership.
The alternative to the corrupt, corporate media of Murdoch and Brooks is not a totalitarian state-media — or an impossible and undesirable “objective” media that would simply communicate news without any analysis or comment — but a publicly-owned media industry with democratic controls to guarantee pluralism and the representation of minority viewpoints.