A Preston school has pledged to stand by one of its governors – former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks – who is at the centre of the phone hacking scandal.
Ms Brooks, now the chief executive of the soon-to-close paper’s parent company News International, serves on the board of governors at Fulwood Academy, the Evening Post can reveal today.
And she is due at the school next Wednesday for a prize-giving ceremony for pupils.
The 43-year-old has come under huge pressure to resign her job after allegations that investigators working for the News of the World hacked into the phone voicemails of murder victims, terrorism victims and the families of soldiers while she was editor.
Last night, News International chairman James Murdoch said the paper would close after its final edition on Sunday.
It has now emerged Ms Brooks has served as a governor at the 1,000-pupil Black Bull Lane academy since it opened in September 2009.
A source close to the embattled journalist said she was “very proud” of her involvement with the academy.
Ken Cridland, secretary of the National Union of Teachers in Lancashire, which represents hundreds of teachers across the county, said: “Clearly there is a huge question mark over whether the News International chief executive is the right sort of person to be influencing young people.
“It is up to the academy whether they wish to go ahead with this, but to me it would not seem a good idea.”
Asked whether parents have a right to be concerned, Coun David Hammond, councillor for the Greyfriars ward, which includes the Academy, said: “Yes, they do.
“These people, especially with the advent of these new academies, are supposed to be the ones who set an example. They have to be squeaky clean.
“It is a surprise to me, but I don’t know anyone who has a longer list than three people who are on the board of governors at that school.”
Parent Louise Smith, from Ribbleton, who has one son at the school and one starting in September, said: “I did not even realise. If she’s a governor at a school, it’s a bit different. Obviously it is not good publicity for the school.”
But David Goldie, chairman of governors at the academy, said the school would stand by Ms Brooks, saying she had done a “fantastic” job.
He added: “My understanding is Rebekah Brooks has said she had no knowledge of it, and her employer has supported her in that respect, and she believes the phone hacking is reprehensible.
“I believe in presumed innocence. I would not ask her to stand down and I have to say she has been a fantastic governor for the academy.”
Asked if he was worried the negative publicity around Ms Brooks affecting the academy’s reputation, he added: “I don’t know that that’s true. I shouldn’t think many people will be concerned at this stage because I should think most people will assume innocence at this stage.”
He said that the invitation to next Wednesday’s prize-giving event is still open to Ms Brooks, adding: “I don’t know whether she will be there or won’t be there, given the chaos which is existing in her life at the moment.”
There is currently no publicly available list of who is on the school’s governing body, but following the Evening Post’s enquiries, Mr Goldie said he would request that a full list is posted on the academy website.
Fulwood Academy is sponsored by Carphone Warehouse boss Charles Dunstone, a friend of Ms Brooks’.
Mr Dunstone reportedly attended the Oxfordshire wedding of Ms Brooks to former racing trainer Charlie Brooks on June 13, 2009.
He is also a regular visitor to her home in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire.
Mr Goldie said Mr Dunstone suggested Ms Brooks would be an “interesting and useful” person to have on the governing body. Governors serve a two-year term before having to be re-appointed.
There is no evidence that Ms Brooks was aware of the hacking activities while she was in charge of Britain’s biggest selling newspaper.
But The News of the World has found itself embroiled in a furious public backlash after revelations investigators interfered with a police probe into the disappearance of Milly Dowler in 2002 by hacking into her voicemail and deleting messages so others could be heard.
Since then claims have emerged that the relatives of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq may have had their phones hacked, as well as the parents of murdered schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.
Victims of London’s 7/7 terror attacks were also hacked.
Richard Smyth, principal at Fulwood Academy, said: “Rebekah Brooks has been a governor at Fulwood Academy since 2009. She has been an enormous help with our library and initiatives for a newspaper production for the sixth form, and very supportive of education.
“She has a long-standing invitation to present prizes at our prize giving (next Wednesday).”
Mr Dunstone and Ms Brooks were not available for comment.
WHO ARE THE GOVERNORS AT FULWOOD ACADEMY?
David Goldie, chairman of governors, lives in the North West and is on the board of Talk Talk, one of the companies which Charles Dunstone is chairman of. He is also a member of the north west Development Agency.
Bill Wood, lives in Grimsby and is chairman of governors at another academy in Yorkshire
Alan Kinson, from Preston, is a parent governor and has children at the school
George Lloyd, from Preston, is headteacher at another academy in east Manchester
Phil Haslam, lives in the north west and is a senior IT manager at Talk Talk
Alison Ellis, PA to the principal and staff governor
Fiona Elcomb, deputy principal of the academy and staff governor
Stephen Mercer, from Preston, is retired but has previously worked as a teacher and in education administration and management at Lancashire County Council
Andrew Rink, lives in the North West and works as a chartered accountant
Russell Chambers, lives in the North West and works as a managing director at the bank UBS
Richard Smyth, principal of Fulwood Academy
Rebekah Brooks, lives in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, and is chief executive of News International