British police have arrested Rebekah Brooks, the former News International chief executive and a close aide of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, as part of an investigation into phone hacking and bribery by the defunct tabloid News of the World newspaper.
Al Jazeera's Barnaby Phillips, reporting from outside the New Scotland Yard police headquarters in London, said Brooks was arrested at noon on Sunday.
She was being questioned on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications, or phone hacking, and on suspicion of corruption, which could relate to bribing police and others for information, he said.
A statement released on Brooks' behalf said she "voluntarily attended a London police station to assist with their ongoing investigation". She has yet to be charged with any crime.
Brooks, 43, stepped down on Friday from her post in News International, the British newspaper arm of Murdoch's News Corp, to deflect pressure from the media empire which has been rocked by the
In Sunday's other major development related to phone hacking, London's police chief quit over his links to another ex-News International employee caught up in the scandal.
Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, has been criticised for hiring Neil Wallis, a former News of the World executive editor arrested last week, as a part-time public-relations consultant for a year until September 2010.
Stephenson denied any wrongdoing, saying he did not make the decision to hire Wallis and had no knowledge of Wallis' links to phone hacking.
"I will not lose any sleep over my personal integrity,'' Stephenson said.
Earlier in the day, Brooks' lawyer, Dave Wilson, describing her arrest, told the Reuters news agency that she went to a London police station of her own volition by pre-arranged appointment.
He said she was assisting police with their inquiries and declined to comment further.
|Stephenson denied any wrongdoing while announcing his resignation as the Met Police chief on Sunday [Reuters]
A senior News International source was quoted by Reuters saying the company was surprised by the arrest and had had no indication it was coming.
The News of the World, which published its final edition a week ago, is alleged to have hacked thousands of phones, including that of murdered 13-year-old Milly Dowler, sparking a furore that forced Murdoch to close the paper and drop a $12bn plan to buy all of highly profitable broadcaster BSkyB.
Brooks, Murdoch and his son James will be questioned in Britain's parliament on Tuesday, including over reports that News International misled parliament during earlier hearings.
Brooks became the focus of widespread anger over the scandal but was initially protected by Murdoch.
Murdoch guided her rise through the male-dominated world of UK tabloid journalism to become editor of the News of the World in 2000 and the Sun's first female editor in 2003, according to the Reuters report.
Brooks is "an extremely powerful woman" and a close friend not only of David Cameron, the current British prime minister, but also of his two predecessors, Al Jazeera's Phillips said.
"Her arrest strikes at the heart of the Murdoch empire and also at the heart of the British political establishment."
Murdoch broke his silence by publishing apologies in several newspapers on Saturday, as British politicians demanded his grip over the country's media be weakened.
In an interview published in UK's Sunday Observer newspaper, Ed Miliband, the opposition Labour party leader, called the concentration of power in Murdoch's British media empire "quite dangerous".
"I think it's unhealthy because that amount of power in one person's hands has clearly led to abuses of power within his organisation," he said .
Miliband's own popularity has benefited from his aggressive pursuit of Murdoch and the London police officials whose links to News Corporation have been exposed.
His approval rating has risen seven points from last month, according to a poll commissioned by the Independent newspaper.
Cameron, who met News Corporation executives more than all other media bosses combined during his tenure, has seen his approval rating fall three points.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies