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Murdoch lieutenant at heart of UK’s widening media scandal

Now chief executive of News International, the British newspaper arm of News Corp., and a key Murdoch lieutenant, Rebekah Brooks was editor of the U.K.’s Sunday tabloid the News of the World when at the time the phone-hacking allegedly took place.Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: news services

Rebekah Brooks appeared destined to soar to the highest ranks of Rupert Murdoch’s global media empire before a widening phone-hacking scandal this week put her at the center of one of Britain’s biggest media scandals for a generation.

The News of the World, the Rupert Murdoch-controlled weekly tabloid, shocked the media world Thursday when it announced it will publish its final edition this Sunday, responding to allegations that the 168-year-old newspaper hacked into the voice mail of a missing schoolgirl who was later found murdered, and also the families of fallen British soldiers and terrorism victims.

Now chief executive of News International, the British newspaper arm of News Corp., and a key Murdoch lieutenant, Brooks was editor of the U.K.’s Sunday-only tabloid at the time the hacking allegedly took place. She has condemned the practice and said she knew nothing about it.

Still, prominent British figures have called for her to step down, including U.K. opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband.

“She should go, she should take responsibility,” Miliband told the BBC Thursday.

James Murdoch, News Corp.’s deputy chief operating officer, said Brooks' leadership has been crucial to the company’s response to the scandal. Her “leadership of the company is the right thing,” he said, adding that there’s “no question of her going […] her leadership is crucial right now,” he said in a BBC interview.

Born Rebekah Wade, the 43-year-old has worked for the Murdoch empire since the age of 20, joining Sunday tabloid the News of the World as a secretary before moving to The Sun daily. In 2000, she was appointed editor of the News of the World, making her, at the time, the youngest ever editor of a British national newspaper.

She moved on to edit The Sun in 2003, becoming its first female editor, and spent six years at the helm before her appointment as chief executive of News International.

Brooks rarely gives interviews. In 2003, she told a parliamentary committee her newspaper had paid police for information although News International later said this was not company practice.

Brooks, formerly married to a star of television soap opera "Eastenders," is considered one of Rupert Murdoch's most trusted executives and is politically well-connected.

She and her second husband, a former racehorse trainer, are reported to be regular guests at Prime Minister David Cameron's Oxfordshire home.

On Tuesday, she said she was “sickened” at allegations the News of the World had hacked into the voicemail messages of missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler, later found murdered, in 2002. The Guardian newspaper said an investigator for the paper had also deleted some messages to make room for more, misleading police and the girl's family into thinking she was alive.

“I hope that you all realize it is inconceivable that I knew or, worse, sanctioned these appalling allegations,” she wrote in a memo to staff, adding that she would not resign.