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5 July 2011

Can Brooks really hang on?

The News International chief executive is either guilty of incompetence or something far worse.

By George Eaton

Despite clear evidence that Milly Dowler’s phone was hacked during Rebekah Brooks’s tenure as News of the World editor, Brooks is sticking to the line that she knew nothing. Former NoW reporter Paul McMullan had previously admitted to Hugh Grant in April that the phones of Dowler’s “friends and family” had been hacked.

Here’s the key extract from Grant’s NS investigation:

Me Ah . . . I think that was one of the questions asked last week at one of the parliamentary committees. They asked Yates [John Yates, acting deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police] if it was true that he thought that the NoW had been hacking the phones of friends and family of those girls who were murdered . . . the Soham murder and the Milly girl [Milly Dowler].
Him Yeah. Yeah. It’s more than likely. Yeah . . . It was quite routine. Yeah – friends and family is something that’s not as easy to justify as the other things.

But even by the standards of the NoW, the news that Dowler’s own phone was hacked represents a new low.

The BBC’s Robert Peston reports that Brooks, who is now chief executive of News International, has no intention of resigning and retains the full support of Rupert Murdoch. He writes: “Later today she is expected to tell staff at News International, the UK arm of Mr Murdoch’s News Corporation, that she is deeply shocked by the allegations, which News International has been working through the night to substantiate. However she insists that she was not involved in that instance of alleged phone hacking, or others, and knew nothing about it.”

The NoW hackers didn’t even conceal their activities from Surrey Police (who chose not to pursue the tabloid on the grounds that this was only “one example of tabloid misbehaviour”), is it really feasible that they managed to conceal their activities from their own editor? Like Andy Coulson, if Brooks did know, she’s too wicked to stay in her post, if she didn’t know, she’s too stupid.

Brooks has so far avoided the level of scrutiny that she deserves. She refused three times to give evidence to the Commons select committee investigating the phone hacking allegations. But the latest revelations mean that far more people, not least the tabloid’s own readers, will be demanding an explanation.

Finally, it’s worth recalling that Coulson resigned (twice) because hacking occurred under his watch. Surely, Brooks will eventually be forced to do the same and accept ultimate responsibility for the scandal.