The rise and fall of Rebekah Brooks

Rebekah Brooks broke barriers during her 22-year career with Rupert Murdoch's newspapers, becoming one of Britain's most powerful female executives. But to her many critics, she was "The Witch of Wapping."
Rebekah Brooks resigned Friday as chief executive of News International as Rupert Murdoch's company reels from a series of crises. (Jon Super/Associated Press )

Rebekah Brooks broke barriers during her 22-year career with Rupert Murdoch's newspapers, becoming one of Britain's most powerful female executives. Her friends included the prime minister. But to her many critics, she was "The Witch of Wapping," a ruthless figure at the heart of a media empire.

Brooks emerged as the villain as soon as the scandal broke, shaking Britain's media establishment and rocking Murdoch's empire.

She resigned from her post as chief executive of News International on Friday after spending more than a week at the centre of a media firestorm involving phone hacking at one of her newspapers, which are based in the London district of Wapping.

A loyal Murdoch lieutenant

Recognizable by a shock of curly red hair, the 43-year-old Brooks was a loyal lieutenant of Murdoch and served as editor of the News of the World at the time when the tabloid's journalists allegedly hacked into the telephone messages of a 13-year-old murder victim, searching for material for news stories about her as well as numerous other people.

Former British PM Gordon Brown, Elisabeth Murdoch, daughter of Rupert Murdoch, second left, politician Baroness Amos, second right, and chief executive of News International Rebekah Brooks during a reception for women in business at 10 Downing St., London, in March 2008. Brooks made many powerful friends while at News International. (Fiona Hanson/PA/Associated Press )
The scandal was deemed toxic for the tabloid, and Murdoch shut down the 168-year-old newspaper. Brooks was vilified for clinging to her job while journalists lost theirs. A barrage of Twitter postings Friday referenced her nickname, together with the lyrics of "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead," from the film The Wizard of Oz.

Brooks's resignation ends decades of climbing the News Corp. ladder, from her humble beginnings as a secretary, leaving friends and foes in her wake. She edited two of the Murdoch-owned titles at the centre of the recent scandal and though she has denied wrongdoing, critics have called for her to take responsibility for what went on under her watch.

Brooks has been accused of actively cultivating Murdoch's favour, cozying up to the media magnate and his inner circle to cement her standing in the empire.

Joined News of the World in 1989

Her career with the News of the World began in 1989, after briefly working for the group as a secretary. Brooks started as a features writer, then became features editor, associate editor and ultimately deputy editor. She left the tabloid in 1998 to become deputy editor of Murdoch's other London tabloid, The Sun, where she stayed for two years.

When Brooks returned to the News of the World as editor, she was only 31 years old — a rare feat for Britain's press establishment.

She peppered the tabloid with the usual run of celebrity scandals, but drew praise for a campaign to identify pedophiles and helping get sex offender legislation, known as "Sarah's Law," passed in Britain. Some criticized the campaign as thwarting police investigations.

In another stint at The Sun, Brooks became its first woman editor in 2003. She thumbed her nose at critics who expected her to end the run of daily topless models on page 3, attaching a headline that said "Rebekah from Wapping" to the photo of a model in that slot on her first day on the job.

Six years and a host of scoops later, Brooks was named chief executive of News International, taking her place at Murdoch's executive table.

No longer drafting the headlines from her perch in the executive suite, Brooks has still made plenty of them — from her lunches and social calls with top politicians to one unusual brush with the law.

Arrested in 2005

In 2005, Brooks was arrested for attacking her husband, soap-opera star Ross Kemp. No charges were filed.

Brooks's second marriage, to former racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks, came in 2009. The couple have been known to rub shoulders with some of Britain's most prominent politicians and appear at society events from Windsor Castle to Wimbledon.

Brooks cultivated a close friendship not just with current Prime Minister David Cameron, but the wives of ex-prime ministers Gordon Brown and Tony Blair.

Rebekah Brooks, left, magazine editor Ben Preston, and U.K. journalist Piers Morgan, talk with the Queen during a reception for the media at Windsor Castle, England, in April 2002. (Fiona Hanson/Pool/Associated Press)
She has some prominent enemies too, many of whom are celebrating her career meltdown.

Chris Bryant, a prominent openly gay lawmaker, has accused Brooks of blatant homophobia. He told London's Evening Standard that Brooks approached him at a reception several years ago and said "it's after dark. Shouldn't you be on Clapham Common?" — referring to a gay cruising hotspot.

"She should have gone a very long time ago," he told Sky News after Brooks resigned.

Some victims of the scandal were loath to gloat — including Max Clifford, who received a hefty payout from the News of the World after his phone was hacked in an earlier scandal.

The celebrity publicist called the news "very sad," saying he had always found Brooks to be honest and professional.

He and Brooks would meet for lunch every few months, either at the cozy Mews of Mayfair restaurant or at News International headquarters. Their conversations would cover everything from his celebrity clients, to her marriage and their shared love of the countryside. Clifford said Brooks was the only journalist present at his second wedding.

"This will be crushing for her," Clifford said of Brooks's exit. "It was probably the best time of her life and now she's got to pick up the pieces."