Cheryl Carter, the former personal assistant of former News International CEO Rebekah Brooks was arrested and questioned for ten hours by police on Friday before being released on bail, pending further questioning. The New York Times says that the arrest “appears to reflect the investigators’ intensifying focus on the possibility of a cover-up by executives, editors and others of the extent of illegal phone hacking and other criminal wrongdoing.” A statement released by Scotland Yard said that Carter had been questioned “on suspicion of trying to pervert the course of justice, a line of inquiry that has not been specified in police statements on most of the other arrests.”
Carter is the 17th person who has been arrested in conjunction with Scotland Yard’s Operation Weeting, its investigation into allegations of extensive phone hacking at the now-defunct NoW. Rupert Murdoch closed the tabloid after 168 years of continuous publishing as an avalanche of allegations of widespread phone hacking at NoW emerged last summer, starting with the revelation that NoW staff had hacked into the voicemail of 13-year-old Milly Dowler, a British school girl who had been murdered.
As the New York Times says, Carter had been Brooks’s personal assistant for more than 19 years, from the time that Brooks was deputy editor of The Sun, another Murdoch-owned tabloid, and then CEO of News International. Those who worked with Brooks describe Carter as her “gatekeeper,” with “close knowledge” of Brooks’s “schedule, e-mails and meetings.” Carter lost her job after the hacking of Milly Dowler’s voicemail was revealed, though still wrote a weekly beauty column for The Sun until December.
The Guardian says that last Tuesday News International settled seven privacy claims against News Group Newspapers, the publisher of the NoW. The claims settled were brought by Mark Oaten, Ulrika Jonsson, Abi Titmuss, Michelle Milburn, Paul Dadge, James Hewitt and Calum Best. In a statement, News Groups Newspapers said that it had agreed to pay “appropriate sums by way of compensation” while expressing “regret for the distress caused.”
Hugh Tomlinson, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, said that News International is actually “keen to settle all of the cases out of court” but that this would not be possible as some of the cases “give rise to issues which have to be tried.” He particularly highlighted that there has been a “big problem” in obtaining emails between journalists and executives and that he wants Mr Justice Vos to demand that News Group Newspapers submit the material to the police and lawyers by a “required end point.” Given the recent arrest of Carter and the possibility of a cover-up about the extent of phone hacking at NoW, News Group Newspapers’ delay in turning over the emails is not surprising and is, indeed, at least suspicious.
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