A year ago, Rebekah Brooks was arguably the most powerful woman in the country. As chief executive of News International, she oversaw The Sun, the News of the World, The Times and The Sunday Times, was feted by her proprietor Rupert Murdoch and even received messages from David Cameron, signed "lol", for "lots of love".
In four weeks, she will appear in the dock of Westminster Magistrates Court charged with three counts of conspiring to pervert justice, an offence which carries a theoretical maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Mrs Brooks and her husband Charlie – an Eton contemporary and friend of the Prime Minister – are accused of taking part in a cover-up during the peak of the phone-hacking scandal last summer.
Four associates of the 43-year-old Mrs Brooks (see panel, below) are also charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. They will appear with Mr and Mrs Brooks at a preliminary court hearing on 13 June.
The charges, announced yesterday, are the first in the deepening scandal for six years, since police arrested the News of the World's royal reporter Clive Goodman and private detective Glenn Mulcaire in August 2006.
News International moved quickly into damage-limitation mode. Tom Mockridge told staff in an email that it was "a difficult period", adding: "I am deeply grateful for your continued professionalism and commitment." The newspaper group has spent more than £53m on its own investigation, mostly on legal and professional fees, it emerged.
More than 40 other people – including Andy Coulson, Mr Cameron's former communications director – remain on bail as part of Scotland Yard's operations into phone hacking, computer hacking and corruption.
On 4 July 2011, The Guardian caused public outrage by revealing that the News of the World had hacked into the phone of the missing schoolgirl, Milly Dowler. On 17 July, Mrs Brooks, who had resigned as chief executive of News International two days earlier, was arrested on suspicion of phone hacking and corruption. She remains on police bail in relation to those potential offences.
The conspiracy to pervert the course of justice charges cover the period between 6 July and 19 July last year.
Between 6 and 9 July last year, Mrs Brooks and Ms Carter, her PA and the former beauty editor of The Sun, are said to have "conspired together permanently to remove seven boxes of material from the archive of News International".
Between 6 and 19 July, Mrs Brooks is accused of conspiring with her husband Charlie, and Ms Carter, Mr Hanna, Mr Edwards, Mr Jorsling and persons unknown "to conceal material from officers of the Metropolitan Police Service".
In the final count, covering 15 to 19 July 2011, Mrs Brooks, her husband Charlie, Mr Hanna, Mr Edwards and Mr Jorsling are said to have conspired together and with persons unknown, to conceal documents, computers and other electronic equipment from the Met.
Mrs Brooks, who joined News International as a secretary 20 years ago, said: "I feel today is an attempt to use me and others as scapegoats, the effect of which will be to ratchet up pressure on my wife, who I believe is also the subject of a witch-hunt."
She added she was "baffled" by the decision to charge her. "One day the details of this case will emerge and people will see today as nothing more than an expensive sideshow. I can't express my anger enough that those closest to me have been dragged into this unfairly," she said.
Henri Brandman, solicitor for Ms Carter, said his client "vigorously denies" the allegations. Mr Hanna, who was based at News International's headquarters in east London, said: "I will be totally exonerated." The defendants' trial is expected to take place at the end of this year or in early 2013.
Meanwhile, at the Leveson Inquiry, Sky News political editor Adam Boulton recounted hearing about a No 10 pyjama party in 2008, attended by Rupert Murdoch's wife Wendi Deng and organised by Gordon Brown's wife Sarah. He said it was "bonkers".
On her case: The lawyer who charged Brooks
Alison Levitt, the lawyer who took the decision to charge Rebekah Brooks, is in charge of overseeing all the cases in the inquiries, which are likely to comprise phone hacking, computer hacking and corruption of public officials.
Ms Levitt, principal legal adviser to the Crown Prosecution Service, has two advantages in doing so: her long experience and her previous lack of entanglement in the story.
Until late 2010, the Crown Prosecution Service had an inglorious role in the affair. Arguably it asked too few questions of the Metropolitan Police's criminal inquiry in 2006 and 2007, and in 2009, when fresh questions were raised about that investigation, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, issued a narrow interpretation of the law which he reversed a year later.
In January 2011, when Mr Starmer asked Ms Levitt to review the historic material about phone hacking held by Scotland Yard, he stressed that she had no previous involvement in the case. Called to the bar in 1988, Ms Levitt became a recorder, a part-time judge, in 2007 and a QC in 2008.
"I feel today is an attempt to use me and others as scapegoats, the effect of which is to ratchet up the pressure on my wife, who I believe is the subject of a witch hunt.
There are 172 police officers, about the equivalent of eight murder squads, working on this; so it doesn't surprise me that the pressure is on to prosecute, no matter how weak the cases will be.
I am confident that the lack of evidence against me will be borne out in court, but I have grave doubts that my wife will ever get a fair trial, given the volume of biased commentary which she has been subject to.
We look forward to fighting this in court."
"Whilst I have always respected the criminal justice system, you have to question whether this decision has been made on a proper impartial assessment of the evidence.
Although I understand the need for a thorough investigation, I am baffled by the decision to charge me. However I cannot express my anger enough that those close to me have unfairly been dragged into this.
As the details of the case emerge people will see today as an expensive sideshow, and a waste of public money as a result of this weak and unjust decision."
Also charged: The other accused
Cheryl Carter, 47, is the former personal assistant to Rebekah Brooks. She was with her at News International for 19 years.
Daryl Josling provided personal security to Rebekah Brooks. He worked freelance as part of a personal security team employed by NI.
Paul Edwards was Mrs Brooks's chauffeur at News International and is still an employee of NI.
Mark Hanna is head of group security at NI.
NI confirmed that the two employees charged had been suspended on full pay while the criminal cases are ongoing and the company will continue to provide them with legal support.
Revenue and Customs official arrested
An employee of HM Revenue and Customs was arrested yesterday by police investigating corrupt payments to public officials.
The 50-year-old man, who is understood to be the first employee from the HMRC to be arrested as part of the Scotland Yard investigation, was detained at his north-west London home along with a 43-year-old woman.
The pair were arrested as a result of information passed to detectives by News Corp's Management Standards Committee, the body set up by Rupert Murdoch's media empire to carry out internal investigations into The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times.
Operation Elveden has so far arrested 29 people, including 12 current and former members of The Sun staff detained on suspicion of bribing police officers and other public officials. Those arrested also include a Ministry of Defence employee and a serving member of the armed forces.
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