Embarrassment for Cameron as Rebekah and Charlie are arrested

Arrests of his Oxfordshire friends come as Cameron crosses Atlantic in a plane full of hacks

Column LAST UPDATED AT 12:23 ON Tue 13 Mar 2012

THE Metropolitan Police stuck two fingers up to David Cameron today by arresting his friends Rebekah Brooks and her husband Charlie Brooks just as the Prime Minister was about to lift off from Heathrow to meet the US President Barack Obama.

For Cameron, the timing of the police arrests could not have been more embarrassing. The hacks travelling in the back of his chartered BA jet were buzzing with the news as they headed across the Atlantic.

Cameron's close friendship with Charlie and Rebekah Brooks is now certain to follow him to the States, where President Obama was looking for a simple photo opportunity (at a basketball match in Ohio) and an opportunity to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Cameron at a White House press conference on Afghanistan.

Instead, Obama will be welcoming a prime minister one of whose oldest friends – Dave and Charlie (above) go back to schooldays at Eton – is helping the police with their inquiries. As for Rebekah, she is was until recently a senior lieutenant to Rupert Murdoch and this is is the second time she has – apparently - been arrested. (The last time was in July and concerned alleged corrupt payments to public officials.)

And bear in mind - as observers of the unfolding Murdoch saga constantly remind us – corporate crime is taken far more seriously in the United States than it sometimes is here.

The Metropolitan police will insist that the timing was a coincidence, but it will be seen as a clear signal that they are determined now to let justice take its course, no matter how personally or politically damaging it is to Cameron and his Chipping Norton friends.

All six were arrested between 5 am and 7 am on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. If charged and convicted, the penalty can be a long prison term.

Charlie Brooks, a racehorse trainer and Daily Telegraph racing columnist, was expected to be at the Cheltenham Festival today, not far from their Cotswolds mansion, rather than answering questions at a police station.

Those questions are thought likely to centre on reports last year that after Rebekah Brooks was first arrested over alleged phone-hacking, her husband tried to reclaim a bag containing a laptop computer, mobile phone and private papers.

The bag had been dumped in a bin in an underground car park under a shopping centre which is part of the gated Chelsea Harbour complex where Rebekah owns a £1.5 million apartment.

Security officers at the complex handed the bag to police. Brooks allegedly claimed it had been discarded by mistake by cleaners but the police were reportedly checking CCTV footage in the car park to see who dumped it.

At the time of this posting, the Met had not identified the people it arrested between 5 am and 7 am today. But the Press Association was reporting that Rebekah and Charlie Brooks were definitely among the six being held for questioning.

The Met police said only that the arrests concerned a 43-year-old woman and a 49-year-old man at home in Oxfordshire; a 39-year-old man in Hampshire; a 46-year-old man in west London; a 39-year-old man in Hampshire; a 38-year-old man in Hertfordshire, and a 48-year-old man at a business address in East London.

In total, 17 people have been arrested in the hacking inquiry but so far none have been charged.

A senior Sun journalist, Trevor Kavanagh, attacked the Met on 13 February for its recent heavy-handed early morning raids on journalists - many concerning alleged corrupt payments rather than phone-hacking - saying the "witch-hunt" had put Britain behind some ex-Soviet states.

But the Met's deputy assistant commissioner Sue Akers hit back, while giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, when she said there was a "culture of illegal payments" at The Sun, and evidence of "corrupt payments" in all areas of public life. ·