Personal assistant to Rebekah Brooks arrested over 'deleted emails'

Cheryl Carter is latest News International employee to be questioned in phone-hacking inquiry

The longstanding secretary to the former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks has become the 17th person to be arrested by police investigating phone hacking at the News of the World.

Cheryl Carter, 47, who was Ms Brooks' personal assistant for 19 years, was arrested at her home in Essex shortly before 7am yesterday on suspicion of attempting to pervert the course of justice. The officers were from Operation Weeting, Scotland Yard's inquiry to establish who at the NOTW knew about illegal voicemail interception.

Detectives, who have been handed an archive of 300 million internal emails by NI, are understood to be investigating claims that electronic messages were deleted at the company before evidence was surrendered to the Yard.

Ms Carter, from Billericay, remained with Ms Brooks throughout her career at Rupert Murdoch's newspaper empire and had an intimate knowledge of her business dealings and appointments diary. During their time working together, Ms Brooks progressed from deputy editor of The Sun to editor of the NOTW, then editor of The Sun and finally to chief executive of NI.

In a statement, police said: "The woman was arrested at approximately 6.55am on suspicion of attempting to pervert the course of justice." Ms Carter was later released on police bail until later this month.

The former PA was made redundant after Ms Brooks resigned last July at the height of public outrage over allegations that the NOTW had hacked Milly Dowler's phone. Like her former boss, who started her career as a secretary on the NOTW, Ms Carter branched out from her administrative duties into writing for NI titles. She was The Sun's beauty editor, writing a column for the paper until November.

Former colleagues yesterday underlined the closeness of the working relationship between Ms Carter and Ms Brooks. One said: "Cheryl would have been trusted more than the managing editor, the editor or anyone else on the papers by a factor of 10. She was there all the hours God sends, from the crack of dawn to very late at night."

Ms Brooks, who was this week photographed on holiday in South Africa with her husband shortly before they are due to become parents through a surrogacy next month, was arrested in July on suspicion of conspiring to hack phones and making corrupt payments to police officers. Through her lawyers, she has denied any wrongdoing.

The former NI chief executive has been previously questioned by the House of Commons Media Select Committee about whether Ms Carter would have kept her appointment diaries from the past 19 years. Tom Watson, the Labour MP, asked Ms Brooks if Ms Carter had material from her diaries which would confirm her statement she had never met the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire. Ms Brooks replied: "No, [Cheryl] probably doesn't. We don't keep that for 19 years. I don't know."