Britons are agog at revelations that police lent a horse to a Murdoch editor, writes John Burns.
IT WAS a story that London's scandal-hungry tabloids, reeling for months from the scandal in their own backyard, could scarcely have dreamed up: Scotland Yard lending a retired police horse to the editor of one of Rupert Murdoch's newspapers at a time when the Murdoch tabloids were under investigation for the illegal phone hacking that has shaken Scotland Yard and the Murdoch papers to the core.
It now appears to have been an innocent act of animal welfare, but celebrities and their animals are traditionally strong tabloid fodder, and the tale of Rebekah Brooks' horse proved irresistible, leading broadcast news bulletins and online news websites in Britain.
The issue of "horsegate", as it was called on Twitter, was even raised at Downing Street's daily briefing for journalists. Asked whether Prime Minister David Cameron, a friend and neighbour of Mrs Brooks, had ridden the horse, the Prime Minister's spokesman said that information was not available to him.
Still, at first blush, the loan of the horse seemed to have a darker side, offering a new exhibit the horse to illustrate the once-cozy ties between the Murdoch papers and the police that have formed the backdrop to the scandals.
Mrs Brooks, 43, is the former editor of News of the World, now defunct, and The Sun, the market-leading tabloids that formed the bedrock of Murdoch's wealth as he built his $US40 billion ($A37 billion) News Corp conglomerate. During the period she kept the horse in the stables at the Oxfordshire country mansion she shares with her husband, racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks, she rose to become chief executive of News International, the British newspaper subsidiary of News Corp.
Mrs Brooks was freed on bail after her arrest on suspicion of involvement in phone hacking and the web of police bribery that has emerged in recent weeks. She is the most senior Murdoch employee among the 30 or so who have been arrested, questioned and released in the affair. When her bail expires next month, she may be closer to learning whether she, with others who once worked with her at the tabloids, will be charged with criminal offences.
Scotland Yard issued a statement describing the horse loan as routine. The statement said the horse, from a police stable in London used for ceremonial and crowd-control duties, had been lent to Mrs Brooks in 2008 when it had reached retirement and then "rehoused with a police officer" in rural Norfolk county in 2010. A Scotland Yard spokesman said the horse had subsequently died.
"When a horse reaches the end of its working life, mounted branch officers find it a suitable retirement home," the statement said.
Dave Wilson, Mrs Brooks' spokesman, depicted her adoption of the horse as a compassionate gesture for an ageing animal.
"Rebekah took on a horse and effectively acted as a foster parent for a year or so," he said. "It's just a way of giving a temporary home to a horse that has had a distinguished service in the Met." NEW YORK TIMES, TELEGRAPH