Brooks, Murdoch's red-headed protege, flames out
Less than a year ago Rebekah Brooks was staying at the British premier's country house -- but on Sunday the former top aide to Rupert Murdoch was an unwilling guest at a London police station.
The flame-haired 43-year-old's arrest over alleged phone hacking at the News of the World tabloid caps a fall from grace that started two days earlier when she quit her role as head of Murdoch's British newspaper arm.
She started out as a secretary at the paper 22 years ago and rose through charm and sheer determination to become its editor, before moving to sister paper The Sun and eventually to become chief executive of News International.
Dubbed Murdoch's "fifth daughter", her closeness to the octogenarian magnate was clear when he flew into London a week ago and, when asked what his priority was in the crisis, pointed to her and said: "This one."
Brooks also moved in the highest circles of British politics.
A member of the famed "Chipping Norton" set, with a house near British Prime Minister David Cameron's in the quaint Oxfordshire village, Cameron and his wife hobnobbed last December at Brooks's house, according to another neighbour -- Jeremy Clarkson, the presenter of the BBC motoring show "Top Gear".
Clarkson wrote in the Murdoch-owned Sunday Times that "what Rebekah and Cameron talked about most of all... is sausage rolls", adding that it was a conversation about what to eat on a picnic.
Brooks was also a guest at Cameron's official country residence, Chequers, in July and August 2010, according to details released by Downing Street amid a furore over the prime minister's ties to the Murdoch empire.
Cameron even attended her wedding in 2009 when she married her second husband, former horse trainer Charlie Brooks. Other guests included Murdoch and then Labour prime minister Gordon Brown.
Cameron however recently said she should resign.
Murdoch too appeared to have sacrificed her when she resigned on Friday, having previously clung to her job even as Murdoch shut down the shamed News of the World in what many commentators had viewed as a bid to save Brooks.
"Ruperts wisdom, kindness and incisive advice has guided me throughout my career," Brooks wrote in her parting message to staff on Friday.
Brooks edited the News of the World from 2000 to 2003, when the paper allegedly hacked the phone of Milly Dowler, a murdered British schoolgirl, the claim that made the scandal explode.
She insists she knew nothing of the practice.
Born in 1968, Brooks reportedly wanted to be a journalist from the age of 14, growing up in Cheshire, northwest England, before studying briefly at the Sorbonne in Paris.
After a stint in the regional press she joined the News of the World at the age of 20, rising to editor in 2000. Three years later she moved to become the first female editor of The Sun, where she stayed for six years.
She was renowned for her determination in pursuit of a story -- and her sharp tongue.
Her own personal life has, at times, been as colourful as some of the stories in the mass-market papers she edited.
In 2005 she was arrested and then released without charge after police were called to the house she shared with her first husband, British television actor Ross Kemp, who had suffered a cut to the mouth.
Her closeness to Murdoch was also the subject of reports in rival British newspapers this weekend saying that the media mogul's daughter Elisabeth loathed her and said she had ruined News International.
Her arrest on Sunday promises to be more serious -- but it could mean that she misses out on a potentially gruelling appearance before a British parliamentary committee scheduled for Tuesday alongside Murdoch.
At her last appearance before the Commons media committee, Brooks admitted that the News of the World paid police for stories, although she later said she was referring to the industry in general.
© 2011 AFP