Brooks, Coulson to be charged

Tue, Jul 24, 2012, 01:00

British prime minister David Cameron's ex-media chief and Rupert Murdoch's former UK newspaper boss are to be charged with phone-hacking offences in the most significant development in a scandal that has rocked Britain's establishment.

Prosecutors said today Andy Coulson, who was Mr Cameron's communications chief from 2007 until January 2011, and Rebekah Brooks, who was courted by a succession of prime ministers including Mr Cameron in her role as Mr Murdoch's UK newspaper chief, would be charged with offences linked to the hacking.

The alleged offences were committed when both were editor of the News of the World newspaper, the Sunday tabloid which Mr Murdoch was forced to close last July amid public revulsion at the phone-hacking revelations.

Among the alleged victims were two former home secretaries, ex-England soccer manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, Hollywood stars Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, former Beatle Paul McCartney and a minor member of the royal family.

Ms Brooks and Mr Coulson are also both accused of involvement in hacking the telephone of Milly Dowler, a missing schoolgirl who was later found murdered in 2002.

It was the revelation that News of the World journalists had hacked her phone that triggered a furore that engulfed Mr Murdoch's News International and ultimately led to the closure of the 168-year-old News of the World.

"I am not guilty of these charges," Ms Brooks said in a statement. "I did not authorise, nor was I aware of, phone hacking under my editorship.

"The charge concerning Milly Dowler is particularly upsetting not only as it is untrue but also because I have spent my journalistic career campaigning for victims of crime. I will vigorously defend these allegations."

Six other senior former News of the World journalists and staff, including the former managing editor, are also to be charged - a formality to be completed by police later today. The maximum sentence for the phone-hacking charges is two years in prison and/or a fine.

All eight facing charges will appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on August 16th.

The development is particularly embarrassing for Mr Cameron because Mr Coulson was also charged with hacking the phones of David Blunkett and Charles Clarke, two former home secretaries from the now-opposition Labour Party.

Alison Levitt, principal legal adviser to the Director of Public Prosecutions, said she had concluded there was sufficient evidence to charge the eight suspects with 19 offences over the illegal accessing of voicemails on the mobile phones belonging to politicians, celebrities and sporting figures.

News International had for years denied that phone hacking was widespread after the tabloid's former royal reporter and private detective were jailed in 2007 for the crime.

Mr Coulson resigned in the aftermath, and took up the role as director of communications of the Conservative Party, helping to shape Mr Cameron's campaign to become prime minister.

Critics say Mr Cameron appointed Mr Coulson in order to secure the backing of the journalist's former boss, Mr Murdoch, and say the appointment showed a shocking lack of judgment.

The involvement of Mr Coulson and Ms Brooks - a close friend to Mr Cameron - turned the long-running hacking story into a national political scandal that has laid bare the collusion between senior politicians, the police and the media.

Ms Brooks, her husband and her personal staff have already been charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice over the hacking case, while Mr Coulson has been charged in Scotland with perjury after he denied in an unrelated court case any knowledge of phone hacking.

Ms Brooks, wooed by a string of politicians and prime ministers first in her role as editor of the News of the World and Sun tabloid, and then as the head of Mr Murdoch's British newspaper arm News International, was one of the most powerful women in Britain, instantly recognisable by her long, curly red hair.

She was also close to Mr Cameron, socialising with him over Christmas breaks, and both were embarrassed earlier this year when an inquiry into media ethics read out text messages sent between the two.