Rebekah Brooks’s imminent return as chief executive of Rupert Murdoch’s News UK was described as a “massive two fingers” to the victims of phone-hacking, but also a “gift” to campaigners seeking greater regulation of the press.
A formal announcement that Ms Brooks, who resigned in 2011 amid the phone-hacking scandal but was cleared last year of criminal charges, will retake control of the company that publishes The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times is expected in the next few weeks.
It comes as the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) considers whether to bring corporate charges against News UK over the widespread phone-hacking of celebrities, politicians, victims of crime and the 7/7 terrorist attacks, and other ordinary people caught in the media spotlight.
Evan Harris, joint executive director of the Hacked Off campaign, compared Ms Brooks’s return to disgraced banker Fred Goodwin being re-employed by RBS, or Andy Coulson, the former News of the World editor who went to prison over phone-hacking, going back to work as David Cameron’s chief spokesman.
“For people like me who want to see reform of ownership and press regulation, it’s a good thing … from our perspective it is a gift,” he said.
“Opinion polls show overwhelmingly the majority of the public and the majority of Sun readers … support controls on media ownership to stop monopolies, and the implementation of an effective and independent system of press regulation.”
He pointed out that Ms Brooks’s defence during her trial was essentially that she was “such an incompetent executive that she was unaware of industrial-scale criminal wrongdoing in intercepting voicemails and bribing public officials, and unaware of the vast conspiracy to cover it up”.
“Her failure has cost the company £300m and then there is the £16m pay-off she received, while scores of her newspapers’ sources have gone to jail,” Dr Harris added. “Brooks’s reappointment is a major misjudgement of the national mood by a company still ethically out of control.”
Chris Bryant, the shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and a phone-hacking victim, said it was further evidence that “Murdoch hasn’t got a moral bone in his body”. He added: “It’s basically a massive two fingers to the British public and the victims of phone-hacking. It shows all that humility was faked by Murdoch when he appeared before the [House of Commons] Select Committee.”
Others who suffered as a result of underhand press tactics voiced disbelief at Ms Brooks’s swift rehabilitation, with former BBC Crimewatch presenter Jacqui Hames saying it was “beyond parody”. The News of the World put her family under surveillance and hacked their phones in 2002, when Ms Brooks was editor.
The news of the appointment was broken by the Financial Times – and News UK’s parent company, News Corp, later confirmed in a statement that it had been “having discussions with Rebekah Brooks”.
A spokeswoman for News UK added that it “looks like they [the FT] have got great sources and a strong story ... But as far as I’m aware Mike Darcey is still the CEO”.
Michael Wolff, the American author of a biography of Mr Murdoch called The Man Who Owns the News, said the UK had gone to war with the media mogul and “the UK lost”.
He suggested the timing of the leak to the FT as the CPS considers corporate charges was not coincidental. “It’s the ultimate fuck you ... I think [Brooks] is very symbolic for him ... Her vindication is his vindication.”Reuse content