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Phone-hacking scandal: Who is Rebekah Brooks?

By Bryony Jones, CNN
updated 10:42 AM EDT, Tue June 24, 2014
Rebekah Brooks edited both the News of the World and the Sun, after starting as a secretary and working her way up.
Rebekah Brooks edited both the News of the World and the Sun, after starting as a secretary and working her way up.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Rebekah Brooks has been cleared of all charges against her at a phone-hacking trial
  • Brooks was chief executive of News International until she resigned in July 2011
  • She became the youngest-ever editor of a national British newspaper in 2000
  • Rupert Murdoch was said to have treated Brooks like a daughter

London (CNN) -- Rebekah Brooks was once feted as one of the rising stars of the British media: She was the youngest person ever to edit a national British newspaper, and made a stellar rise through the ranks of Rupert Murdoch's media empire.

She held the top job at News International, News Corp.'s British subsidiary, for two years after editing the country's best-selling daily tabloid, The Sun, and its best-selling Sunday tabloid, News of the World.

But following allegations of illegal eavesdropping by News of the World journalists when she was editor, she saw her fortunes fade.

Brooks resigned as chief executive of News International in July 2011 amid public outrage over hacking allegations and was summoned by police the following week.

It was the first time she was arrested and questioned by police investigating phone hacking claims.

Brooks kept a low profile after her resignation but was ridiculed in the British press when it was revealed that London's Metropolitan Police had lent her a retired police horse in 2008.

As politicians became engulfed in the scandal, with allegations that ministers acted improperly in their dealings with News Corp., Prime Minister David Cameron -- a family friend of Brooks' husband -- admitted he had ridden the horse.

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When Brooks appeared before the Leveson Inquiry into press standards in 2012, she was grilled about her relationship with Britain's current and former prime ministers and detailed her frequent contacts with Cameron in the run-up to the 2010 election.

In October 2013, Brooks was among seven people to go on trial for phone hacking.

She denied all charges of conspiracy "to intercept communications in the course of their transmission, without lawful authority," conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and conspiracy to obstruct a police investigation.

On June 23, jurors found her not guilty of the charges, the UK's Press Association news agency reported.

Before she took the stand in February 2014, the defense reminded the jury that Brooks was not on trial "because she was the editor of a tabloid newspaper" or for working for media baron Rupert Murdoch or for "any political views she may hold" or for "the support newspapers she edited gave to one party or another."

Rather, the defense said, her trial hinged on whether she knew about and endorsed a "practice of phone hacking at News of the World during her editorship"; whether she had encouraged a Sun reporter to pay a public official; and whether she had asked her husband, Charlie Brooks, and her personal assistant, Cheryl Carter, to "get rid of things ... to cover up the practice of phone hacking or of paying public officials." Brooks denied any wrongdoing.

Asked by her lawyer if she was ever asked to sanction the practice of phone hacking while editor of News of the World, from 2000 to 2003, Brooks said: "No."

During the trial, prosecutors alleged that Brooks had a clandestine affair with co-accused Andy Coulson from 1998-2004, which they argued showed the pair's level of trust.

Giving evidence, Brooks described her personal life as a "car crash for many years," the Guardian newspaper reported. She denied there had been a long-standing affair but acknowledged there had been periods of physical intimacy.

Coulson edited the News of the World from 2003 until 2007, having served as Brooks' deputy at the tabloid for three years before that. He went on to be David Cameron's director of communications, resigning from his role with the prime minister in 2011, when police launched a second investigation into newspaper eavesdropping.

When Coulson gave evidence in April - with his wife watching from the public gallery - he said the affair "shouldn't have happened," the BBC and Guardian newspaper reported.

But he denied that it meant he and Brooks had shared sensitive stories, the outlets said.

The revelations were seized on by UK media covering the case, with one newspaper - The Independent -- headlining its story "The affair they didn't expose," a reference to the tabloid newspapers' history of revealing other people's cheating.

In June, Coulson was found guilty of conspiracy to hack phones.

Hard lessons learned

Brought up in Cheshire, northern England, in the 1970s, Brooks is said to have decided on a career in journalism at the age of 14, beginning with a job as a "tea girl" at her local paper.

In her late teens, she moved to Paris, where she is reported to have worked at architectural magazine L'Architecture d'aujourd'hui and studied at the Sorbonne.

On her return to the UK, she worked in regional papers before making the move to Sunday tabloid News of the World in the late 1980s.

Starting out as a secretary, Rebekah Wade -- her maiden name -- swiftly made her way up the editorial food chain, becoming deputy editor by the age of 27.

She tells of how, at a corporate golf day shortly after she was appointed, one senior executive ordered her to sew the buttons back on his shirt. Her response is not known.

Sexism in the workplace aside, Brooks' rise through the ranks continued. She was named deputy editor of the hugely popular Sun newspaper, the News of the World's sister title, in 1998.

In 2000, she returned to the News of the World, this time in the top job, becoming the youngest-ever editor of a national British paper.

While editor of the weekly, Brooks argued for the creation of a U.S.-style "Sarah's Law," which would allow parents with young children to know about anyone convicted of child sex crimes living close to their homes.

As part of the controversial campaign, which was inspired by the murder of eight-year-old Sarah Payne in July 2000, Brooks took the decision to name and shame offenders in the pages of her paper.

The lists sparked witch-hunts and riots, as communities across Britain tried to hound pedophiles out of their neighborhoods. It was condemned by police, but Brooks remains unrepentant.

In a 2009 speech, she admitted the campaign was "a blunt and contentious way of informing the public ... hard lessons were learned but I don't regret the campaign for one minute."

She married soap star Ross Kemp, famous for his hard-man role as Grant Mitchell in long-running British TV show "Eastenders."

In 2003, she was promoted again, becoming editor of the Sun, a post she held until 2009 when she was handpicked for the role of News International chief executive by Rupert Murdoch.

In the same year Brooks and Kemp divorced and she remarried horse trainer Charlie Brooks. The couple's wedding party was attended by a host of big names, including the Murdoch clan (Rupert, James and Elisabeth), the then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and future-Prime Minister David Cameron.

Brooks and Murdoch had been close for many years: before her downfall Rupert Murdoch was said to have treated Brooks like a daughter. Whether the relationship has survived the scandal remains unclear.

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