Even Rupert Murdoch must be wondering if Rebekah Brooks is worth saving now

There aren’t too many women at or near the top of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation (apart from daughter Elizabeth and wife Wendi of course) but the old boy is very loyal to those who do rise up the ranks.

Long-serving Times city editor Patience Wheatcroft was one, being brought back (briefly) to edit the Wall Street Journal Europe even after defecting to the Sunday Telegraph and current CEO of News international in the UK Rebekah Brooks, a former editor of both the News of the World and the Sun, is another.

But it has emerged that private investigators in the NoW’s pay hacked into the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler before her death was discovered in 2002. This pre-dates the original rash of phone-hacking which resulted in the jailing of NoW royal correspondent Clive Goodman and PI Glenn Mulcaire, and which led to the resignations of Andy Couldson from both the NoW (he succeeded Brooks as editor) and his director of communications job in the coalition government.

Interfering with a murder investigation (especially such a high profile one as this) takes the phone hacking scandal to an entirely new level and Brooks, as the NoW editor at the time, is firmly in the firing line.

Her only defence (phone hacking is illegal and there is no public interest defence) is that she didn’t know what was going on. But that’s what Coulson said and he resigned anyway.

The accusations against Brooks couldn’t have come at a worse time for Murdoch as he is on the brink of launching a second bid for the 61 per cent of UK satellite broadcaster News corporation doesn’t own (and would dearly like to). This, if successful, would be a game-changing deal for News Corp, potentially as big and lucrative as buying the Fox broadcasting and film organisation was back in the 1980s.

Jeremy Hunt’s department of culture, media and sport keeps saying until it’s Tory blue in the face that it has no powers to prevent the Murdoch deal going through because of phone hacking (it says ‘media plurality’ is the only issue and that has been dealt with by ring-fencing Sky News).

But would MPs, other members of the Government (apart from Brooks’ chum PM David Cameron presumably), the BSkyB board and its shareholders (not to mention the public) have the appetite to allow News Corporation to become even bigger in the UK (around 35 per cent of the total media market) if it is found to have interfered in and indeed impeded an investigation into the murder of a schoolgirl?

Bugging a few politicians and celebrities (serious enough) pales in comparison.

It’s difficult, impossible maybe, to see how Brooks can survive although there were characteristically defiant noises coming from News international this morning, relayed through their conduit of choice, the BBC’s business editor Robert Peston.

Rebecca knew nuffink and it’s her job to see the police investigation (Operating Weeting) through they say.

They’ll probably have to a do a bit better than that.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.