Eight face court in hacking scandal as 'trial of century' opens

Rebekah Brooks denies phone hacking.
Rebekah Brooks denies phone hacking.

The first trial from the phone-hacking scandal that sank Rupert Murdoch's News of the World was due to open in Britain tonight with his key aide Rebekah Brooks and the Prime Minister's former media chief Andy Coulson among the defendants.

In what media commentators have dubbed the "trial of the century", eight people are due to appear at the Old Bailey in London for the start of up to four months of hearings on a scandal that shook the British establishment and rocked Murdoch's media empire and the entire British newspaper industry.

The charges range from illegally hacking the mobile phone voicemails of more than 600 victims including a murdered schoolgirl and celebrities such as Sir Paul McCartney, plus bribing public officials for stories and hiding evidence.

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

The trial will formally open, but the prosecution's opening statement is expected to be delayed by the selection of a jury and by legal arguments.

The main players are Brooks, the former chief executive of Murdoch's British newspaper operations, and Coulson, the journalist-turned-media-linchpin for Cameron.

Brooks, who rose from a secretary to edit the News of the World and its daily sister paper the Sun while becoming one of Murdoch's closest confidants, denies phone hacking, conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office, and perverting the course of justice.

Brooks' racehorse trainer husband Charlie, her personal assistant Cheryl Carter, and former News International security chief Mark Hanna deny obstructing justice, along with Brooks herself, by concealing evidence in the frantic last days of the paper.

Coulson, a former News of the World editor, denies hacking and paying officials for a Buckingham Palace phone directory containing the royal family's contact details.

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 royal editor Clive Goodman, who is charged along with Coulson with bribing officials and also pleads not guilty.

A public inquiry ordered by Cameron and led by Judge Brian Leveson heard evidence on the scandal, but it is the first time the key players will face criminal charges.

Two charges against Andy Coulson of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.
Two charges against Andy Coulson of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.

Political commentator Peter Oborne wrote in the Daily Telegraph: "The Old Bailey will host the trial of the century. While the Leveson inquiry generated dramatic headlines, all the most important areas of criminal investigation were out of bounds."

Facing phone charges

Rebekah Brooks
Former chief executive of News International, former editor of its tabloids the Sun and the News of the World, is charged with:

Conspiring to unlawfully intercept communications of more than 600 alleged victims from October 3, 2000 to August 9, 2006. Conspiring to hack the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler and trade union boss Andrew Gilchrist.

Three charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by concealing material from the police, removing seven boxes of material and concealing computers and other electronic devices in the last days of the News of the World in July 2011.

One charge of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office by paying a Ministry of Defence employee for stories.

Andy Coulson
Former spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron and ex-News of the World editor is charged with:

A general phone-hacking conspiracy charge. Four additional charges of hacking the voicemail of Dowler, former ministers David Blunkett and Charles Clarke, and Calum Best, the son of late soccer star George Best.

Two charges of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office over payments to public officials for information including a Buckingham Palace phone directory called the "Green Book'' with contact details for the royal family and royal household.

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