Ex-tabloid editor Rebekah Brooks returns as News Corp UK chief

Ms Rebekah Brooks, former News International chief executive, arrives for the phone-hacking trial at the Old Bailey court in London on January 15, 2014. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - British ex-editor Rebekah Brooks, the fiery redhead who resigned over a tabloid phone-hacking scandal, will return to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp as head of its UK division, the company said on Wednesday.

Ms Brooks, who formerly edited The Sun and The News of the World and was behind some of their most famous scoops, stepped down as chief executive of the business in 2011 at the height of the scandal.

She was arrested on suspicion of being involved in the hacking of phone voice mails by journalists, but was cleared of all charges last year.

"Rebekah will lead a great team at News UK into the digital future, while maximising the influence and reach of our newspapers," Mr Robert Thomson, chief executive of News Corp, said in a statement.

The 47-year-old Brooks said she was "delighted to return to News UK."

"I am confident that we can meet the many challenges of this digital age with a combination of cutting-edge technologies and world class journalism," she said.

Ms Brooks was initially reluctant to take the role but was persuaded by the Australian-born business magnate, with whom she has a close relationship, according to the Financial Times.

Before the scandal broke, Mr Murdoch treated Ms Brooks like a daughter and she was close friends with Prime Minister David Cameron, who went to school with her racehorse trainer husband Charlie.

She once disguised herself as a cleaner and hid in the bathroom of a rival paper for two hours before stealing an early edition so the News of the World could lift its scoop on Prince Charles, according to her former editor Piers Morgan.

Such determination helped her to rise to become editor of the News of the World between 2000 and 2003 and The Sun between 2003 and 2009.

As she rose ever higher in the Murdoch empire, she became part of his inner circle.

After Mr Murdoch announced the closure of the News of the World in 2011, he was asked by journalists what his first priority was.

Gesturing at Ms Brooks, he said: "This one."

Ms Brooks and her husband socialised with Murdoch's daughter Elisabeth as part of a rural elite known as the Chipping Norton set, which also included Mr Cameron.

Before her marriage to Brooks, she also had an affair with her colleague and co-defendant Andy Coulson, who went on to become Cameron's communications chief.

Her first husband was former "Eastenders" soap actor Ross Kemp, whom she married in 2002 and divorced in 2009 after a stormy relationship.

Former premier Tony Blair was also in her circle of friends.

Days before she was arrested, he advised her to "tough up" and take sleeping pills, it emerged at her trial.

But Ms Brooks's excellent connections could not prevent her arrest, days after the News of the World was shut down over claims its private investigators hacked the phones of victims of London's 7/7 terror attacks and Milly Dowler, a murdered 13-year-old girl.

The announcement of her appointment on Wednesday was criticised by campaign group Hacked Off, which represents victims of phone hacking.

"This is a major misjudgement of the public's mood by a company still ethically out of control," said joint executive director Evan Harris.

While Brooks has been cleared of all charges, she may face a new legal challenge early in her new post as Britain's Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is still considering bringing charges against News Corp over phone hacking at the News of the World.

The police sent the allegations to prosecutors in July.

"We have received a full file of evidence for consideration of corporate liability charges relating to the Operation Weeting phone hacking investigation," the CPS said earlier.

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