LONDON (Reuters) - One of Rupert Murdoch's most senior newspaper executives was given a retired police horse to ride at her country house, police said on Tuesday, one of the more unusual disclosures in a phone-hacking scandal that has shaken the British media.
The London force said it had loaned the horse, Raisa, to Rebekah Brooks - a Murdoch favourite who ran his UK newspaper arm and edited two of his bestselling tabloids - and said it had been returned in a "poor" condition.
Brooks cared for the animal from 2008 to 2010, the year when Britain's biggest police force revisited its long-running inquiry into newspaper phone hacking and concluded there was no new evidence to pursue.
A keen rider, Brooks is married to a racehorse trainer and has a house near Prime Minister David Cameron in an upmarket part of rural Oxfordshire, southern England. She has denied often-repeated claims that she goes riding with him.
Brooks resigned last July as chief executive of News International, part of Murdoch's News Corp, after an outcry over reporters hacking into private phone messages.
The row also led to the resignation of the Metropolitan Police's boss Paul Stephenson and raised questions about the close ties between media executives and senior police.
An inquiry into press standards heard on Monday that there had been a culture of illegal payments to police at the Sun newspaper, which Brooks edited until 2009.
The Metropolitan Police said it was normal for officers to try to find a suitable home for their horses when they retire.
"When a police horse reaches the end of its working life, Mounted Branch officers find it a suitable retirement home," the Met said in a statement.
It said Raisa had been loaned to Brooks as a 22-year-old retired horse in 2008 after she had made a request a year earlier. Police were then contacted by an individual on behalf of Brooks to take the horse back in 2010.
"When the horse was returned Raisa was regarded by officers from Mounted Branch to be in a poor but not serious condition," the Met said. "The horse was subsequently re-housed with a police officer in 2010, and later died of natural causes."
Brooks' spokesman David Wilson said Brooks acted as a sort of "temporary foster parent" for the horse.
"It's well known in the horse riding community that there is a need by the Met to find temporary homes for these horses that have given distinguished service in the Met," he said.
"It was just simply a charitable deed by Rebekah for a horse that would otherwise have ended up in the knacker's yard."
The scandal has rocked Murdoch's media empire and shed light on the often close relationships between newspapers and senior police, prompting a bout of soul-searching about media ethics.
Cameron has been forced to defend his judgment after he hired former Murdoch editor Andy Coulson as his press secretary after Coulson quit the News of the World following the jailing of its royal reporter for phone hacking.
Additional reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Steve Addison and Maria Golovnina