'Surprise' arrest of Brooks brings inquiry a step closer to Murdochs

 

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The potential for the Murdoch family to become embroiled in the police inquiry into the phone-hacking scandal increased yesterday when the former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks was arrested at a police station in London, where she was expecting to be questioned as a witness.

Ms Brooks, 43, was said to have suffered "quite a surprise" when detectives detained her on suspicion of conspiring to intercept voicemails and involvement in corrupt payments to police at around midday – some 72 hours after Rupert Murdoch caved in to growing political pressure and accepted her resignation.

The unusual Sunday arrest of the former editor of The Sun and the News of the World, who is a personal friend of David Cameron, brings Scotland Yard's investigation into alleged criminality at News International closer to James Murdoch, who oversaw NI as part of his role as chairman of News Corp for Europe and Asia.

It was reported this weekend that Operation Weeting, Scotland Yard's inquiry into phone hacking, is investigating whether NI executives were involved in any cover-up of the extent of voicemail eavesdropping at the NOTW. i understands that Weeting is exploring whether there is evidence of a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, after emails dating back to 2006 were only made available to police in January this year.

The detention of Ms Brooks, who was still in custody as i went to press last night, came on the same day the Serious Fraud Office was asked to investigate whether NI breached company law when it paid to settle lawsuits in the aftermath of the original 2005-06 police inquiry.

James Murdoch will face questioning tomorrow when he appears alongside his father before the Commons Media Select Committee. Under scrutiny will be his decision to sign cheques for between £750,000 and £1m to Gordon Taylor, the head of the Professional Footballers' Association, and publicist Max Clifford, to settle phone hacking lawsuits. James Murdoch said last week that he did not have the complete picture when he approved the payments, adding that this was "wrong and a matter of serious regret".

James Murdoch, Ms Brooks and Les Hinton, the former NI chairman and close confidant of Rupert Murdoch who also resigned on Friday, have denied any knowledge of wrongdoing.

The arrest of Ms Brooks is likely to jeopardise her appearance before the same Media Select Committee.

Adrian Sanders, a Liberal Democrat member of the committee, said: "If it does impede what we can ask, that's not going to go down well with my fellow committee members."

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