Former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks and husband Charlie are released on bail after they and four others were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
The Brookses, who are friends and neighbours of Prime Minister David Cameron, were among six people held by police investigating phone hacking at News International.
Mr and Ms Brooks were arrested at their Oxfordshire home, while other arrests were made in London, Hampshire and Hertfordshire. Police came knocking at the Brooks home between 5am and 7am.
This is now the second time Rebekah Brooks has been arrested over phone hacking. The former editor of the Sun had been on bail after being questioned by detectives last summer on suspicion of phone hacking and corruption.
She was questioned at an Oxfordshire police station, while her husband was interviewed at a police station in Buckinghamshire.
Mark Hanna, News International’s head of security, was also confirmed by the company as one of those arrested in raids today.
On 2 March, it was revealed that Scotland Yard had lent her a horse, which Mr Cameron had used when he went riding with Mr Brooks, an Eton school friend of the prime minister.
Today’s arrest is potentially far more serious for Ms Brooks because it involves a suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. All six arrests today were on the same grounds.
“This is a huge new phase in the whole development of the Hackgate scandal,” Peter Jukes, author of The Fall of the House of Murdoch, told Channel 4 News.
“We’re looking at senior executives. At least two of the three people are already named: Rebekah Brooks, previous CEO of News International, and the chief head of security, Mark Hanna. So we’re talking about high levels of management.”
This issue is also proving awkward for David Cameron, who went to Eton with Charlie Brooks and has been friends with him ever since.
Mrs Brooks’s relations with top police officers were recently called into question after it emerged that her horse, Raisa, was rehoused with a police officer in 2010, months before fresh investigations began into illegal activities at the News of the World.
On 2 March, after days of speculation and unanswered questions, it also emerged that David Cameron did ride Mrs Brooks’s horse while leader of the opposition.
Asked about the arrest of Mrs and Mr Brooks, a Downing Street spokeswoman said: “The prime minister is travelling to Washington. It is an operational matter for the police. You wouldn’t expect him to comment on it.”
Meanwhile, at today’s Leveson inquiry hearing, Dick Fedorcio, director of public affairs at the Metropolitan Police, revealed that in 2010 he thought it appropriate to allow the then crime editor of the News of the World, Lucy Panton, to use his computer, access his email account and file a story to her newspaper while sitting in his office.
When Ms Panton forwarded her copy to her colleagues, in an email which was shown to the Leveson inquiry today, she said: “Had to use Dick’s computer to file and can’t seem to delete the original message details. Would not be helpful to him for people to know I was using his office so please delete that.”
Mr Fedorcio admitted to the inquiry today that “it may have been an error of judgement” to allow the News of the World journalist to use his computer.
More detail also emerged at Leveson about what happened when a senior murder detective confronted Rebekah Brooks at Scotland Yard, claiming that the News of the World had put him and his family under surveillance when he was investigating a hugely sensitive murder inquiry whose suspects, he believed, had links to the News of the World.
Last week Lord Stephens, who was Metropolitan Police commissioner at the time, said he had not known about that surveillance operation. But Dick Fedorcio today said he did tell Lord Stevens about the meeting between Dave Cook, the murder detective, and Rebekah Brooks – just not the detail.