Hacking accused appear in court

Thu, Aug 16, 2012, 01:00

The former communications chief of British Prime Minister David Cameron appeared in court today, accused with six others of hacking the phones of Hollywood stars, politicians and crime victims.

Andy Coulson, a former editor of Mr Murdoch's now-defunct News of the World tabloid, resigned from Mr Cameron's staff last year in the wake of the scandal, which has rocked Rupert Murdoch's media empire and raised questions over Mr Cameron's judgement.

Alongside Mr Coulson in the dock stood the paper's former managing editor, Stuart Kuttner; former news editor Greg Miskiw; former head of news Ian Edmondson, ex-chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck and former reporter James Weatherup. The seventh man is a former private detective Glenn Mulcaire.

Mr Coulson, Mr Kuttner, Mr Edmondson, Mr Thurlbeck and Mr Weatherup sat together in court while Mr Miskiw and Mr Mulcaire sat on their own.

The men did not exchange a word or even appear to acknowledge each other as they looked around Westminster Magistrates' Court, which was packed with lawyers and reporters.

The seven men spoke only to confirm their name, age and address. A clerk then read out all the charges which took almost 20 minutes to complete. The case will now go to Southwark Crown Court on September 26th.

They remain on bail on the condition they do not contact each other and that they tell the police in advance if they plan to travel abroad.

Rebekah Brooks, a close friend of Mr Cameron's who oversaw Mr Murdoch's British newspaper arm, has also been charged with illegally intercepting voicemail messages and will appear before the same court on September 3rd.

Prosecutors allege that to obtain exclusive stories, the group illegally accessed on a systematic basis the voicemails of mobile phones of people ranging from celebrities to sports stars and politicians.

Prosecutors said the victims included actors Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Jude Law; England soccer player Wayne Rooney; former Beatle Paul McCartney; former deputy prime minister John Prescott and two former home secretaries.

Another alleged victim was Milly Dowler, a missing schoolgirl later found murdered. It was the revelation that she had been targeted which created a public uproar last year, and led to Mr Murdoch closing down the 168-year-old title.

Phone-hacking had first became public knowledge seven years ago when senior aides to members of Britain's royal family realised their voicemails had been listened to when private stories appeared in the News of the World.

Following a now much-criticised police investigation, the paper's royal correspondent and a private detective were jailed.

For years, Mr Murdoch's British newspaper arm News International claimed only a rogue reporter was to blame. However, a new police inquiry was opened in January last year that led to the current charges.