LONDON // The former chief executive of Rupert Murdoch's newspaper empire in Britain has been sent for trial on charges that she concealed evidence of phone hacking from police investigators.
Rebekah Brooks, who resigned as chief executive of News International at the height of the hacking scandal last summer, appeared before magistrates in London yesterday, charged with three counts of perverting the course of justice.
As MPs debated whether a government minister should be investigated for being too close to Mr Murdoch as he adjudicated on a takeover of Britain's biggest satellite broadcaster, Mrs Brooks, 44, appeared in court alongside her husband Charlie Brooks, her former personal assistant, her chauffeur and two News International security staff.
They were all released on bail pending an initial hearing at a higher court next week. All face charges relating to accusations that Mrs Brooks conspired to conceal documents, computers and electronic equipment from police investigating phone hacking, and removed seven boxes of material from the News International archive.
Mrs Brooks, a former editor of both the News of the World and The Sun, publicly denied the charges in a statement last month following her arrest.
According to court documents, the offences took place last July, the month Mr Murdoch announced the closure of the Sunday tabloid, the News of the World, because of the hacking scandal. David Cameron, the prime minister, set up a judicial inquiry into standards of the British press.
It was also the month that Mrs Brooks quit and Mr Murdoch's News Corp withdrew its bid to buy the 60 per cent stake it did not already own in satellite broadcaster BSkyB.
That proposed takeover, which required the consent of Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, led to the Labour Party forcing a debate in the House of Commons yesterday over whether Mr Hunt's closeness to Mr Murdoch and his aides had affected his impartiality.
To the annoyance of Mr Cameron, the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, ordered his Liberal Democrat MPs - the junior partners in the Conservative-led coalition government - to abstain in a vote on a Labour Party motion seeking Mr Hunt's referral to a parliamentary watchdog.
The move, which reflects Mr Clegg's concerns over the way Mr Hunt handled the News Corp bid, put new strains on a coalition already cracking over disagreements on other policy issues.
Mr Clegg appeared yesterday before the inquiry into press standards, headed by Lord Justice Sir Brian Leveson. Mr Clegg remarked that it "beggars belief" that illegal activity had gone on at News International "on an industrial scale".
But, he added that while the Leveson Inquiry was "very important" and a preoccupation among media proprietors and journalists, it was not so important to the man in the street at a time of national economic difficulty.
"Our main preoccupation is the economy, is employment," he said.