Rebekah Brooks is to make a stunning return to News Corp as chief executive of its UK division, a year after being cleared of all charges related to the phone-hacking scandal, according to people familiar with the matter.
Her return to the job she quit four years ago at the height of the scandal could be announced as soon as early September, people familiar with the situation said. Her appointment is part of a reshuffle of News Corp’s UK operations which will include the departure of Mike Darcey, chief executive of News UK, and the appointment of a new editor of The Sun, Britain’s best-selling tabloid.
David Dinsmore, the current Sun editor, is to take a senior operational role at News UK and will work alongside Ms Brooks. The leading candidate to replace him is Tony Gallagher, deputy editor of the Daily Mail and a former editor of The Daily Telegraph.
Ms Brooks received a pay-off of more than £16m after resigning in 2011, company documents suggest, some of which went towards her legal fees. However, her return as one of Rupert Murdoch’s top lieutenants was never in doubt after she was cleared of phone hacking charges in the summer of 2014.
She has discussed a variety of jobs with the company over the past 12 months and at one point was close to taking a role which would have given her responsibility for Storyful, News Corp’s social media news agency, and other digital assets.
However, Mr Murdoch, News Corp’s chairman, was keen for her to return as News UK chief executive. She initially resisted his overtures but sources told the Financial Times he eventually won her over.
Ms Brooks’ former critics appear almost resigned to her return. “There are a lot of people who won’t see eye-to-eye with Rebekah Brooks and I’m probably one of them, but she’s entitled to rebuild her life,” said Tom Watson, a Labour MP and a fierce critic of the Murdoch family during the phone-hacking scandal.
The shake-up comes with Mr Murdoch’s British tabloids struggling to regain their status as Britain’s most profitable and provocative newspapers.
Mr Darcey championed digital subscriptions for the Sun, saying that its free-to-access rival MailOnline “shouldn’t be confused with a business based on professional journalism”.
However, the strategy has been viewed internally as a failure. The Sun recently opened up more of its website to non-subscribers — a decision taken by Mr Murdoch, rather than by London-based executives, according to people familiar with the matter.
The Sun has lost ground to MailOnline, which has become increasingly influential, while the Mail on Sunday briefly overtook the Sun on Sunday — News Corp’s replacement for the defunct News of the World — in print sales earlier this year.
The Times and Sunday Times have fared better in recent years, reaching a combined total of 390,000 digital-only or print-and-digital subscribers. However, they have lost about £506m before tax since 2002 — more than wiping out the profit Mr Murdoch made from the titles in the 1980s and 90s.
Mr Darcey is likely to receive a significant pay-off. His predecessor, Tom Mockridge, now chief executive of Virgin Media, received a severance package worth £7.2m.
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