By Costas Pitas
LONDON (Reuters) - Rebekah Brooks, the former boss of News Corp.'s <NWSA.O> British newspaper arm, said on Thursday she felt vindicated after being found not guilty this week of hacking phone messages and other crimes while editing Rupert Murdoch's British tabloids.
Brooks, 46, was speaking for the first time since she was cleared on Tuesday by a jury at London's Old Bailey court of charges relating to phone-hacking, illegal payments to a public official and perverting the course of justice.
"I am innocent of the crimes that I was charged with," she said, her voice shaking with emotion. "I feel vindicated by the unanimous verdicts.
"It's been a time of reflection for me. I've learnt some valuable lessons and hopefully I'm the wiser for it," she told a large scrum of reporters outside the plush townhouse in central London where she has been staying during the eight-month trial.
Prosecutors had alleged that Brooks was complicit in the widespread hacking of voicemails on mobile phones carried out by journalists working for the now defunct News of the World, a Sunday tabloid and Britain's then biggest-selling paper which she edited from 2000 to 2003.
She was also accused of authorizing thousands of pounds in illegal cash payments while editing the sister daily paper the Sun, and then bringing in staff and her husband Charlie to try to thwart the police investigation when the hacking scandal engulfed the British political establishment in July 2011.
However, following one of the most expensive criminal trials in British legal history, of the seven defendants only Andy Coulson, Prime Minister David Cameron's ex-media chief and Brooks' former lover, was found guilty.
Her successor as editor of the News of the World, Coulson now faces jail for conspiracy to hack phones along with four other former senior journalists who had already admitted their involvement.
When she was first arrested, her husband Charlie angrily accused the authorities of pursuing a witch hunt, a line her defense team echoed during her trial.
"When I was arrested it was in the middle of a maelstrom of controversy, of politics and of comment," said Brooks, with her husband's arm wrapped tightly around her.
"Some of that was fair and much of it was not. So I'm grateful to the jury, I'm very grateful to the jury for coming to their decision."
Called Murdoch's "fifth daughter" by British media because she was so close to the media tycoon, she did not respond to questions about what her future held.
"Today my thoughts are with my former colleagues and their families who face future trials. I'm going to do everything I can to support them as I know how anxious the times ahead are," she said.
Dozens more journalists, nearly all from Murdoch's tabloids, are still awaiting trial over alleged offences arising from the huge police investigation into phone-hacking.
Brooks' appearance coincides with a visit by Murdoch to London. Relations between the 83-year-old media mogul and his British journalists have been strained ever since he shut the News of the World to appease public anger at the hacking scandal, and started helping police with their inquiries.
Many journalists at the Sun tabloid were left seething after the company formed an internal committee to search emails and internal documents for any sign of illegality.
(writing by Michael Holden; editing by Kate Holton)