Rebekah Brooks arrested as Murdoch woes grow

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British police on Sunday arrested Rebekah Brooks, a former top aide to Rupert Murdoch, casting doubt over her appearance before lawmakers this week to answer questions about the phone-hacking scandal.

The arrest of Brooks, 43, who resigned on Friday as chief executive of Murdoch's British newspaper wing, piled pressure on Murdoch as the leader of the Labour opposition called for the break-up of his British media empire.

But there was immediate speculation about why the under-fire Scotland Yard made her pre-arranged arrest when it did, when it could mean that she is now unable to face questions before a parliamentary committee on Tuesday.

"Rebekah had a prearranged appointment with police which she attended of her own volition. She was arrested on arrival by police," her spokesman David Wilson told AFP.

Scotland Yard would only confirm that a 43-year-old woman had been arrested "in connection with allegations of corruption and phone hacking" at the News of the World tabloid, which Brooks once edited and which shut down last week.

It said in a statement that she "was arrested by appointment at a London police station by officers" and was in custody.

Brooks is the 10th person and most senior member of Murdoch's empire to be arrested so far over the scandal, which exploded earlier this month amid claims that under her watch the News of the World hacked the phone of a murdered girl.

The flame-haired Brooks is due to appear alongside Murdoch and his son James, the chairman of News International, before the British parliament's media committee on Tuesday to answer questions about the growing scandal.

But the chairman of the committee, John Whittingdale, was quoted by Sky News as saying that he now did not know if she would attend, as questioning Brooks could in theory interfere with the police investigation.

Her arrest came hours after Murdoch published his second apology in British newspapers, although it failed to stop opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband calling for his British media interests to be dismantled.

"I think he has too much power over British public life," Miliband told the Observer newspaper, citing his ownership of the The Sun, Times and The Sunday Times newspapers as well as a 39 percent share in pay-TV giant BSkyB.

Abandoning his earlier defiance, Murdoch placed ads in most of Britain's Sunday newspapers for a second day, this time entitled "Putting right what's gone wrong".

Sunday's ads promised to fully cooperate with police investigating the hacking and provide compensation for those targeted, adding: "There are no excuses and there should be no place to hide."

Murdoch closed the News of the World one week ago but the move failed to stem the scandal, which is threatening the interests of the Australian-born magnate's News Corporation all around the world.

In recent days his bid for control of the rest of BSkyB collapsed while Brooks's departure on Friday was followed hours later by that of Dow Jones chief Les Hinton.

The Murdoch empire's links to the police and politicians also came under fresh scrutiny on Sunday.

Scotland Yard revealed that Commissioner Paul Stephenson met its executives and editors 18 times socially between 2006 and 2010. The force has faced criticism for botching the initial investigation into the News of the World.

Stephenson was linked to former News of the World deputy editor Neil Wallis in reports Sunday which said the police chief accepted a five-week stay earlier this year at a luxury health spa where Wallis worked as a PR consultant.

The force is already facing questions about why it hired Wallis as an advisor two months after he quit the tabloid. Wallis was arrested last week.

A police spokesman strongly denied any wrongdoing.

Home Secretary Theresa May will make a statement to parliament on Monday to set out her "concerns" about the hiring of Wallis.

Prime Minister David Cameron meanwhile faced questions about his decision to invite his former media chief Andy Coulson, another ex-News of the World editor, to his country residence in March, two months after Coulson quit Downing Street.

Coulson was arrested and bailed by police earlier this month.

The hacking scandal is also being investigated by the FBI in the United States, where News Corp. is based and where Murdoch is a naturalised US citizen.

© 2011 AFP

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