Ex-editor testifies before UK press inquiry

Rebekah Brooks says she got messages of sympathy from prime minister after she quit as CEO of Murdoch’s media company.

A former Rupert Murdoch aide has told an inquiry that she received commiserations from David Cameron, UK prime minister, after she resigned amid the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.

Rebekah Brooks, in her long-awaited testimony before the Leveson inquiry into press ethics on Friday, said she also received messages from the foreign ministry, interior ministry and the offices of George Osborne, finance minister.

Brooks, 43, a former editor of the now-defunct News of the World, resigned as CEO of Murdoch’s British newspaper wing News International in July 2011 after the hacking scandal erupted.

She was arrested shortly afterwards over allegations of phone-hacking and bribing public officials. She and Charlie Brooks, her racehorse trainer husband, were re-arrested in March on suspicion of perverting the course of justice.

Robert Jay, lawyer, cut straight to the chase as Brooks began her day-long testimony, pressing her for names of politicians who had expressed sympathy when she was caught up in the hacking storm in July 2011.

‘Lots of love’

Asked about a report in The Times that Cameron had sent a text message saying “keep your head up” after her resignation, Brooks said the message was “along those lines” but that it was “indirect”.

“I don’t think they were the exact words but that was the gist. It was indirect,” she told the inquiry.

“I received some indirect messages from number 10 [Downing Street, Cameron’s office], number 11 [Osborne’s office], the Home Office, Foreign Office,” Brooks said.

In answer to a question on text messages she frequently exchanged with Cameron during the 2010 election campaign, when he was still in opposition, Brooks said: “Occasionally he would sign them off LOL, lots of love.”

She said: “Actually, until I told him it meant ‘Laugh Out Loud’, and then he didn’t sign them like that anymore.”

Brooks also said former prime minister, Labour’s Tony Blair, with whom Murdoch had a friendly relationship, had got in touch with her at that time of her resignation, but his successor, Gordon Brown, had not.

Brown had once courted Brooks and Murdoch, but had fallen out with them over coverage that he viewed as hostile and intrusive.

“He was probably getting the bunting out,” Brooks said.

‘Chipping Norton Set’

Cameron also reportedly sent a message to Brooks via an intermediary explaining that he could not remain loyal to her publicly because Ed Miliband, opposition leader, “had him on the run” over his cosy relationship with top people in the Murdoch empire.

Cameron has been a friend of Brooks’ husband for 30 years since they studied together at Eton, the elite British boarding school.

The Camerons and the Brookses are also neighbours in the prime minister’s constituency in rural Oxfordshire, forming part of what is dubbed the Chipping Norton Set, a group of the rich and powerful who live near the village of the same name.

The impression that Cameron and Osborne surrounded themselves with a coterie of privileged individuals for cosy dinners and horse riding in the English countryside, has been pounced on by critics.

Cameron, who has acknowledged that politicians’ ties with Murdoch were far too cosy, is grappling with a series of disclosures from the Leveson Inquiry that have shown the close social ties between government and Murdoch’s most powerful executives.

Cameron reluctantly ordered the Leveson Inquiry under intense pressure from the public and the opposition Labour Party.

Source: News Agencies