'News Of The World' Editor Grilled At Leveson Inquiry

Former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks' appearance before the Leveson inquiry into media ethics is expected to produce revelations about contacts with British politicians that could prove particularly embarrassing for Prime Minister David Cameron.

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The British got an intriguing glimpse today into the secret world of the powerful. They heard from Rebekah Brooks, a close advisor to Rupert Murdoch and a former tabloid editor. She was caught up in the phone hacking scandal that's engulfed Murdoch's British operations.

Today, Brooks testified to a media ethics inquiry. It's investigating the close relationship between Britain's press and its politicians. NPR's Philip Reeves has the story.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Rebekah Brooks used to be a media superstar. She started out as a secretary, became editor of Murdoch's hugely successful tabloids, The Sun and The News of the World, and ended up, at 41, as chief executive of News International, the company that runs them.

Then it all went wrong. Brooks resigned last year after being arrested by police investigating the phone hacking affair. That meant, today, there were questions Robert Jay, counsel to the inquiry, could not ask for legal reasons.

ROBERT JAY: So we're completely clear about the constraints bearing on your evidence, you are under police investigation in the context of Operation Weeting, Operation Elveden and also for allegedly perverting the course of justice. Is that true?

REEVES: Brooks was Murdoch's right-hand woman in Britain. If the allegation at the core of this affair is true that her old boss, Murdoch, abused his position as the country's most powerful press baron to exercise undue influence over politicians, then Brooks should know.

As she spoke calmly and carefully, her expertise at making friends in high places soon became clear. She said, when she resigned, she received messages of commiseration from the highest quarters, including Downing Street.

REBEKAH BROOKS: Number 10, number 11, home office, foreign office.

JAY: So you're talking about secretaries of states, prime minister, Chancellor...

REEVES: The inquiry heard how Brooks had a close acquaintance with former prime minister, Tony Blair, and with Gordon Brown before they fell out. She and her husband belong to the same country set as the current premier, David Cameron. They met Cameron at dinners and on horseback at hunts in Oxfordshire in the English countryside.

Brooks said she exchanged mobile phone texts with Cameron during the 2010 general election campaign, though she denied reports that he sent her up to 12 messages a day.

BROOKS: I mean, it's preposterous. I mean, one would hope a leader in the position of prime minister have better things to do and I, as chief executive, I did. I mean, I would text Mr. Cameron and vice versa on occasion, like a lot of people.

REEVES: Cameron would not have welcomed Brooks' description of his replies.

BROOKS: He would sign them off, D.C., (unintelligible).

JAY: Anything else?

BROOKS: Occasionally, he would sign them off, LOL, lots of love, actually, until I told him it meant laugh out loud and then he didn't sign them like that anymore.

REEVES: Cameron admits he and others in power were far too cozy with Murdoch. Today, Brooks' testimony produced no new game changing evidence, but for Cameron and his government, this was another uncomfortable day.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, London.



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