British Prime Minister David Cameron’s former director of communications, Andy Coulson, and the former chief executive of Rupert Murdoch’s News International, Rebekah Brooks, will be charged with phone hacking, the Crown Prosecution Service said.
Six other people will also be charged in the ever-widening scandal for their roles in a lengthy campaign of illegal espionage that victimised hundreds of people, the CPS said on Tuesday in a televised statement.
Coulson and Brooks, both former editors for the News of the World, the Sunday tabloid which was shut down last July amid public outrage over the scandal, are accused of conspiring to intercept voicemails of 600 alleged victims between October 2000 and August 2006.
Those being charged in addition to Coulson and Brooks include senior tabloid journalists Stuart Kuttner, Greg Miskiw, Neville Thurlbeck, James Weatherup and Ian Edmondson.
Private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, whose extensive notes have been at the centre of the scandal, is also being prosecuted.
Coulson quit the News of the World in 2006 after one of his reporters was found guilty of phone hacking, but denied any personal involvement and always insisted that the practice was the work of one rogue reporter.
In 2007, Cameron appointed him communications director of the Conservative Party, a post he held until he quit last year as the scandal deepened and the British public questioned Cameron’s judgement over the appointment.
Brooks, who was once deputy editor at the News of the World, before she went on to edit the Sun, Britain’s best-selling newspaper and one of the four titles in News International’s stable, had also denied any wrong doing when she appeared before a parliamentary committee on media ethics.
She insisted she was not guilty, saying in a statement on Tuesday: “I did not authorise, nor was I aware of, phone hacking under my editorship.”
Murdoch appointed Brooks chief executive of News International in 2009 and she was widely seen as the media mogul’s right-hand woman at News Corporations’s newspaper division in the UK until she quit in 2011 over the scandal.
Levitt said that, with reference to the suspects, “there is sufficient evidence for there to be a realistic prospect of conviction in relation to one or more offenses”.
The penalty for “unlawful interception of communications” is up to two years in prison and a fine.
The charges are another potential embarrassment for Cameron who set up an inquiry last year to investigate the role of the press and police in the scandal.
Both Coulson and Brooks – as well as Murdoch – have appeared before the Leveson inquiry, chaired by Lord Justice Leveson.
Critics say Cameron appointed Coulson in order to secure the backing of the journalist’s former boss, Murdoch, and say the appointment showed a lack of judgment.
‘Damaging but not fatal’
Paul Farrelly, an opposition Labour lawmaker who questioned Rupert Murdoch and his son James as part of a parliamentary committee investigation into the hacking, said Tuesday’s developments were damaging, but not fatal, for Cameron.
“My view is that what happens to Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks reflects on David Cameron’s judgment in both the
appointment of Coulson and in being seen to be so close to a certain newspaper empire,” he told the Reuters news agency.
“Because it’s been going on so long, it’s in no way fatal to his premiership. What is more important to the survival of his premiership and the coalition is the economy.”
Phone hacking first came to public attention in 2006, when police arrested Mulcaire and the News of the World‘s then-royal editor Clive Goodman on suspicion of hacking into the voicemail messages belonging to members of Britain’s royal household.
For the next five years, News Corporation subsidiary News International would insist that the illegal activity was not widespread.
But a growing stream of lawsuits – and enterprising reporting by the Guardian and The New York Times – eventually exposed a far more complex situation. Under pressure, police reopened their phone hacking investigation and revisited Mulcaire’s voluminous notes.