UK police loaned horse to key Murdoch executive

Tue Feb 28, 2012 10:07am EST

* Former UK newspaper editor looked after retired police horse

* Keen horse-rider Rebekah Brooks acted as "foster carer"

* UK inquiry looking into hacking, illegal police payments

By Peter Griffiths

LONDON, Feb 28 (Reuters) - One of Rupert Murdoch's most senior newspaper executives was given a retired police horse to ride at her country house, police said on Tuesday, one of the more unusual disclosures in a phone-hacking scandal that has shaken the British media.

The London force said it had loaned the horse to Rebekah Brooks -- a Murdoch favourite who ran his UK newspaper arm and edited two of his bestselling tabloids.

She cared for the animal from 2008 to 2010, the year when Britain's biggest police force reopened its long-running inquiry into newspaper phone hacking and concluded there was no new evidence to pursue.

A keen rider, Brooks is married to a racehorse trainer and has a house near Prime Minister David Cameron in an upmarket part of rural Oxfordshire, southern England. She has denied often-repeated claims that she goes riding with him.

Brooks resigned last July as chief executive of News International, part of Murdoch's News Corp, after an outcry over reporters hacking into private phone messages.

The row also led to the resignation of the Metropolitan Police's boss Paul Stephenson and raised questions about the close ties between media executives and senior police.

An inquiry into press standards heard on Monday that there had been a culture of illegal payments to police at the Sun newspaper, which Brooks edited until 2009.

The Metropolitan Police said it was normal for officers to try to find a suitable home for their horses when they retire.

"When a police horse reaches the end of its working life, Mounted Branch officers find it a suitable retirement home," the Met said in a statement. "In 2008 a retired MPS (Metropolitan Police Service) horse was loaned to Rebekah Brooks. The horse was subsequently rehoused with a police officer in 2010."

Brooks' spokesman David Wilson couldn't immediately be reached. However, he told the Daily Telegraph newspaper that Brooks acted as a sort of "foster carer" for the horse.

"It's just a way of giving a temporary home to a horse that has had a distinguished service," he said. "It went off to a retirement paddock in Norfolk once it couldn't be ridden any more."

The hacking scandal has rocked Murdoch's media empire and shed light on the often close relationships between newspapers and senior police, prompting a bout of soul-searching about media ethics.

Cameron has been forced to defend his judgement after he hired former Murdoch editor Andy Coulson as his press secretary after Coulson quit the News of the World following the jailing of its royal reporter for phone hacking.

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