Former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks, a pivotal figure in Britain’s tabloid phone hacking saga, told the country’s media ethics inquiry on Friday that Prime Minister David Cameron commiserated with her after she quit in the wake of the scandal.
Ms. Brooks, 43, resigned in July as chief executive of News International, Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper operation, and has twice been arrested and questioned by police about illegal eavesdropping and obstruction of justice.
She told the inquiry of her close ties to those in power and acknowledged she received messages of support from politicians including Mr. Cameron and former Prime Minister Tony Blair when she stepped down.
Known for her striking red curls and meteoric rise from secretary to editor at News of the World, Ms. Brooks acknowledged that Mr. Blair had also attended her 40th birthday party hosted at Mr. Murdoch’s home.
The ethics inquiry is focusing on links between British politicians and the press, chiefly Mr. Murdoch’s media empire.
British parties of all political persuasions had long tussled for support of the mogul’s best-selling tabloids, whose backing was credited with the power to swing elections.
As the phone hacking scandal unfolded, unease has grown about what favours the newspapers may have received in return for editorial support.
Ms. Brooks acknowledged on Friday that she had received “indirect messages” seemingly SMS messages sent by the aides of politicians, but relaying their personal thoughts after she stepped down.
“I received some indirect messages from No. 10, No. 11, the Home Office and Foreign Office,” Ms. Brooks said, referring to Mr. Cameron, Treasury chief George Osborne, Home Secretary Theresa May and Foreign Secretary William Hague.
She agreed with inquiry lawyer Robert Jay that a message from Mr. Cameron had told her to “keep your head up” and expressed regret that he could not be more loyal because of the political pressure he was under over the hacking scandal.
The message was “along those lines, I don’t think they were the exact words,” Ms. Brooks said.
Mr. Blair, who quit as Prime Minister in 2007, had also sent a message, but few other Labour Party politicians had been in touch, she said. Mr. Murdoch turned his back on the Labour Party before Britain’s 2010 election, offering backing to Conservative Party leader Mr. Cameron.
Gordon Brown, Mr. Blair’s Labour Party successor ousted in the 2010 vote, had not contacted her, the former executive said.
“He was probably getting the bunting out,” Ms. Brooks said, with a relaxed smile.
She showed composure, and occasional flashes of humour, as she testified.
“You need better sources Mr. Jay,” she teased, as the inquiry’s lawyer asked her about rumours over her close friendship with Mr. Murdoch.
Ms. Brooks, who had a close relationship to Mr. Brown’s wife Sarah, is a neighbour and friend of Mr. Cameron in the picturesque Cotswolds town of Chipping Norton.
The Prime Minister acknowledged that he has known her husband, racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks, for 30 years and that he had recently ridden on a retired police horse that had been loaned to Ms. Brooks.
As Ms. Brooks arrived for the hearing at London’s Royal Courts of Justice, she was confronted by protesters dressed as a horse.
Mr. Cameron set up the ethics inquiry, led by Lord Justice Brian Leveson, in July following revelations that the News of the World had hacked murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone after she disappeared in 2002.
Mr. Murdoch shut down the newspaper amid widespread public revulsion over the hacking.
Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry has already examined newspapers’ relations with the public and the police.