On 13 May Rebekah Brooks, her husband and five other people were arrested and told that she faced three separate charges (conspiracy to pervert the course of justice) related to hacking into voicemails by the News of the World.
Rebekah is angry. In a statement she professed herself baffled by the decision to charge her. Her husband described her as the victim of a witch-hunt. His own arrest was no more, he claimed, than an attempt to ‘ratchet up the pressure’ on her. The most revealing aspect of Rebekah Brooks’ reaction, however, was how upset she was about how “those closest to me… have been dragged into this unfairly.”
It would take a clumsy novelist or playwright to invent a character so weighed down with hypocrisy. As full of self-regard as she is lacking in self-awareness, Brooks has discovered, after years of celebrating privilege, wealth and power, a hunger for fairness.
Having used her company’s papers to attack the most vulnerable, preach self-reliance to the jobless and urge government to exclude and expel those fleeing torture and repression, she now pleads for justice. Most hypocritically of all she chooses to single out the involvement of “those closest to me” as the final straw, the greatest injustice. Let’s think for a moment about the principle.
Rebekah Brooks was editor of the News of the World from 2000 to 2003 and then editor of the Sun until 2009. Her time at the NoW coincides with the worst of the phone-hacking scandals, hence her resignation, appearance before Leveson and arrest. Baffling it isn’t. She was in charge when the phone of missing teenager Milly Dowler was hacked into and voicemails which may have provided the police with some clue as to her fate were deleted. How angry the Rebekah of 2012 must be at the “unfairness” meted out to the Dowler family by her 2002 alter ego.
When public figures raised concerns about phone-hacking, secret taping and so on her papers paid no regard to the sensitivities of their family or friends.
A series of articles in 2003 ridiculed Labour MP Chris Bryant starting with a picture of him in his underpants from a gay dating website. His actual offence was to be on the Media Select Committee and ask some searching questions about her paying the police for information (now known to be true).
Even before the hacking scandal Brooks’ career was characterised by some of the most insensitive and unempathetic journalism. As editor of the Sun in 2003 she ran a front page story about the mental health problems of boxer Frank Bruno under the headline “Bonkers Bruno Locked Up”. At the News of the World she pioneered the campaign to publish the names and addresses of alleged paedophiles in the wake of the Sarah Payne murder case. The populist campaign was successful in terms of sales and readership but criminally indifferent to the risk of violent vigilantism, including against innocent victims. A paediatrician had her house vandalized by people who thought her occupation made her a danger to children. Unlike the arrest of a woman clearly associated with criminal practices in the media organisation she ran, that really was a witch-hunt.
Brooks has now discovered that innocent people can be “unfairly dragged into” scandals. Unfortunately her description of the people close to her as victims is no more convincing than her claim to be baffled at the charges against her.
We cannot know whether the charges against Brooks and her clan will be upheld, but they certainly don’t lack clarity or detail. She, her husband, PA, chauffeur and a NI security man are accused of conspiring to conceal material from the police. All of the accused, apart from her husband, are or were employees of Rebekah Brooks and News International. They are not simply bystanders or family members with no connection to the organisation at the heart of this affair.
Clearly still struggling to cope with her loss of power, Rebekah will have to let the courts decide whether these people have had any involvement with the central issues. Meantime she should maybe reflect on the inverse link between fairness and power. The less power you have, the more important justice is.
Brooks had to lose only a small bit of her previous power to become very angry indeed about injustice and fairness. She might be improved immensely as a person if she loses an awful lot more.