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British media titan Rebekah Brooks sustains a swift decline

In less than three days, Rebekah Brooks, right, the former chief executive of News International, went from being one of Britain’s top female executives to getting booked at Scotland Yard.

Associated Press

In less than three days, Rebekah Brooks, right, the former chief executive of News International, went from being one of Britain’s top female executives to getting booked at Scotland Yard.

LONDON — Rebekah Brooks dined with Britain's prime minister over Christmas and got a public show of support from her boss Rupert Murdoch this month as allegations of phone hacking on her watch mounted.

Now the 43-year-old media executive is a criminal suspect, her world of power and connections shattered by scandal.

Brooks, who quit as head of Murdoch's British newspapers Friday, was arrested Sunday in a widening investigation into years of alleged phone hacking of hundreds of celebrities, politicians and even murder victims, as well as the bribing of police for information, at the now-shuttered tabloid News of the World. Scotland Yard released her on bail after about 12 hours in custody.

The arrest sealed Brooks' swift transformation from one of Britain's most powerful female executives to a figure of scorn.

Recognizable by a long shock of curly red hair, Brooks was a loyal lieutenant of Murdoch and served as editor of the News of the World for part of the time when the tabloid's journalists allegedly hacked into phone messages.

The scandal was deemed toxic for the tabloid, and Murdoch shut the 168-year-old newspaper. Brooks was vilified for initially clinging to her job while 200 other journalists lost theirs.

Her career with the News of the World began in 1989. She started as a features writer, then became features editor, associate editor and ultimately deputy editor. She left the tabloid in 1998 to become deputy editor of Murdoch's other London tabloid, the Sun, where she stayed for two years.

When Brooks returned to the News of the World as editor in 2000, she was only 31 — a feat for Britain's press establishment.

She peppered the tabloid with celebrity scandals, and drew praise for using the newspaper to help get sex offender legislation passed in Britain. Her controversial campaign to publicly identify pedophiles drew criticism from some police, who said it disrupted investigations and could lead to cases of mistaken identity, but she defended it on the grounds that the public had the right to know.

In another stint at the Sun, Brooks became its first female editor in 2003. Six years and a host of scoops later, she was named chief executive of News International, Murdock's British newspaper unit. That put her in the elite circle of Murdoch confidants.

Brooks made headlines with her lunches and social calls with top politicians, and once with an unusual brush with the law. In 2005, she was arrested for allegedly attacking her husband, soap-opera star Ross Kemp. No charges were filed.

Brooks' second marriage, to former racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks, came in 2009. The couple have been known to rub shoulders with some of Britain's most prominent politicians.

Brooks cultivated a close friendship not just with Prime Minister David Cameron of the Conservative Party, but also with the wives of former Prime Ministers Gordon Brown and Tony Blair of the Labour Party.

British media titan Rebekah Brooks sustains a swift decline 07/17/11 [Last modified: Monday, July 18, 2011 12:33am]

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