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Sunday 20 May 2012

Brooks seems unlikely to spare her friends

STANDING outside the offices of his wife's solicitors last Tuesday, racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks said of the serious charges made against him, Rebekah Brooks and others: "I feel today is an attempt to use me and others as scapegoats, the effect of which is to ratchet up the pressure on my wife, who I believe is the subject of a witch hunt."

It was a rather unfortunate choice of words, for the malicious have a tendency to refer to Rebekah as a witch, because of her distinctively flowing red ringlets and famed ability to cast spells on the rich, famous and influential. She is of humble origins and started out without useful connections, but as a friend from schooldays put it: "She's always been able to get what she wants out of people, even if they don't really like her."

Rupert Murdoch regarded Rebekah as a daughter, made her editor of the News of the World when she was 32, then elevated her to the Sun and finally to chief executive of News International. Her first husband was Ross Kemp, famous for playing a hard man in EastEnders; her second is a rich Old Etonian who likes to fly with her to Venice for lunch.

For years, celebrities, politicians and captains of industry hung on Rebekah's every word, partly because of her charm and sympathetic demeanour, but mainly because they were terrified that if they snubbed her, she would destroy them.

She was close to Tony and Cherie Blair, Gordon and Sarah Brown and David and Samantha Cameron.

She had enhanced the witchlike image the week before she was charged by wearing a demure dark dress with an old-fashioned Peter Pan collar for her appearance before the Leveson Inquiry into the media. A couple of days later, Private Eye's cover had the headline "SALEM WITCH TRIAL -- DAY 94" over a photograph of her, with underneath, "THE STORY SO FAR: It is New England in the Year of Our Lord 2012, and diabolical goings-on have led to the Witchfinder General being called in to determine who is guilty of bewitching whom. A simple girl, Rebekah, confesses to being a disciple of the Devil, known to all as Murdoch, and begins to denounce the good folk of the town for consorting with the Evil One ... "

There will have been few who objected to Private Eye's coverage, for Mrs Brooks finds herself short of friends and allies now. Celebrities have queued to denounce the newspapers she edited and ran, and that galloping sound in the background isn't made by Charlie Brooks's racehorses but by terrified politicians trying to escape attention. David Cameron is feeling particularly vulnerable. He was no more guilty than his predecessors when it came to keeping Murdoch happy, but he has the bad luck that Charlie Brooks was an old school chum who lived near his constituency home, so he socialised quite often with the Brookses and their set. Famously, it was Rebekah who told him that "LOL", with which he signed texts to her, meant "Lots of laughs", not "Lots of love".

Will Rebekah seek to save the reputations of her friends? It doesn't look like it. Here's an extract from Private Eye's version of her evidence: "Witchfinder: 'And did you see anyone else consorting with the evil one?'

"Rebekah: 'Aye, sir, with my own two eyes. I did see Goody Cameron supping with the Beast on many occasions ... '

"Witchfinder: 'And what was the nature of Goody Cameron's dealings with the Devil?'

"Rebekah: 'The horned fiend wished to further his evil business upon the earth... probably ... I don't remember.'"

Rebekah, her husband and four of her ex-staff have been charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. If found guilty, she can expect a jail sentence.

The childhood friend said of her: "She's got her lovely fluffy side and then her angry side." Ross Kemp knows about that. At a time when her Sun was running a campaign against domestic violence, she allegedly assaulted him. She spent a night in custody.

She isn't a witch, but she's very, very angry and she has brilliant, ruthless lawyers working for her. I think it's significant that she has named the baby she had last February via a surrogate mother Scarlett. Those who fear she might sacrifice them to save herself will not be consoled by the image from Gone with the Wind of Scarlett O'Hara crying to the sky: "As God is my witness, as God is my witness they're not going to lick me. I'm going to live through this and when it's all over, I'll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again."

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards