Roy Greenslade

The decision to charge Rebekah Brooks with perverting the course of justice is a landmark moment in a scandal with a seemingly endless catalogue of landmark moments – and a further pointer to the unprecedented nature of an affair stretching back almost six years.

Some commentators have argued that the public had become bored with the often arcane nature of the phone-hacking articles in recent months. The evidence presented to the Leveson inquiry, so riveting for journalists, has also often appeared opaque to the outsider. It somehow seemed so distant from the shocking discovery last July that the voicemail messages of the murdered girl, Milly Dowler, had been hacked.

Though some 30 people have been arrested during the three overlapping Metropolitan police investigations, there was little beyond the fact of the arrests that could be reported for legal reasons. So it is perhaps unsurprising that the public have begun to wonder what all the fuss was about.

Legal restrictions on reporting, which are designed to allow people to get a fair trial, remain in place. So there are constraints on discussing the details of the case beyond the wording of the charges against Brooks, her husband, Charlie, and the other four people charged with them.

But it is still a hugely important development, taking the affair to a whole new level. And nobody would know that better than the street-smart Brooks herself.

Note the tone of the statement issued today in the names of her and her husband. It betrays her anger at the turn of events. “We deplore this weak and unjust decision,” it said. “After the further unprecedented posturing of the CPS we will respond later today after our return from the police station.”

Despite that statement, I understand from friends that she had resigned herself to hearing bad news. After all, Brooks is nothing if not a realist. She did not get to be editor of Britain’s two best-selling national newspapers and chief executive of News International without being savvy.

Indeed, her career is a testimony to her far-sightedness. From her middle teens, when at school in Cheshire, the then Rebekah Wade expressed a desire to be a journalist. She chose an unconventional but ultimately effective route to achieve her aims. There was a stint on a French architecture magazine, a spell at local papers in Warrington and then a short time on the ill-fated Manchester-based newspaper, the Post.

From that unlikely beginning she bounced on to the News of the World in London in 1989 as a secretary. Her journalistic ambition and skills were quickly recognised and she was promoted up the editorial ladder. By 1998, she was deputy editor of the Sun. Two years later she was appointed editor of the News of the World and then returned to the Sun as editor in 2003.

Having impressed News International’s ultimate boss, Rupert Murdoch, she became chief executive in September 2009. It must have seemed to Brooks at that moment that she had reached the pinnacle. She wined and dined with prime ministers and the nation’s most senior police officers.

But less than two years later, in July 2011, she was forced to resign in the wake of Murdoch’s closure of the News of the World, and despite his obvious wish to keep her aboard. Now she contemplates the possibility of a very different fate from entertaining the great and the good at London’s most expensive restaurants.

If convicted, she faces a jail term. Indeed, the maximum penalty for perverting the course of justice is life. No wonder that statement was so angry.