News of the World phone hacking trial starts

The first trial from the phone-hacking scandal that sank Rupert Murdoch's News of the World has opened with his key aide Rebekah Brooks and the prime minister's former media chief Andy Coulson in the dock.

They are among eight defendants who will face a jury for the first time over the scandal two years ago that rocked the British newspaper industry and sent shockwaves through the establishment.

Flame-haired Brooks, 45, arrived at the Old Bailey court in London to a storm of photographers' flashes, accompanied by her racehorse trainer husband Charlie, who is also on trial.

Dressed in a camel-coloured coat, Brooks looked relaxed and smiled as she walked into the court building. Coulson, also 45, arrived with his legal team.

The defendants face charges ranging from illegally hacking the mobile phone voicemails of 600 people including a murdered schoolgirl and celebrities such as Paul McCartney, plus bribing public officials for stories and hiding evidence.

Brooks tapped out notes on an iPad as she sat alongside the other defendants in the dock, listening as judge John Saunders heard legal arguments and set reporting restrictions ahead of the jury's selection today.

The jury is expected to hear explosive testimony about the scandal that forced Australian-born Murdoch to shut down the News of the World in disgrace in 2011, and threatened to drag in Prime Minister David Cameron's government.

Dubbed the "trial of the century" by one media commentator, proceedings opened today but the prosecution's opening statement is not expected until tomorrow at the earliest.

The trial was originally scheduled to last four months, but due to its complexity it could now run for six months.

The main players are Brooks, formerly chief executive of Murdoch's British newspaper operations, and Coulson, the savvy tabloid journalist who became director of communications for Cameron.

Brooks, who rose from a secretary to edit the News of the World aged just 32 and became one of Murdoch's closest confidantes, denies phone hacking, conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office, and perverting the course of justice.

Brooks' 50-year-old husband, her personal assistant Cheryl Carter, 49, and former News International security chief Mark Hanna, 50, deny obstructing justice along with Brooks herself by concealing evidence in the frantic last days of the News of the World.

Coulson, also a former News of the World editor, denies hacking and paying officials for a Buckingham Palace phone directory containing contact details for senior royals.

Also on trial are former News of the World managing editor Stuart Kuttner and head of news Ian Edmondson, who both deny phone hacking.

The final defendant is the paper's royal editor Clive Goodman, who is charged along with Coulson for bribing officials. Goodman also pleads not guilty.

- AFP

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