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Cameron's ex-media chief, friend charged over hacking

posted 24 Jul 2012, 09:54 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 24 Jul 2012, 09:55 ]

British Prime Minister David Cameron's ex-media chief Andy Coulson and Rupert Murdoch's former UK newspaper boss Rebekah Brooks are among eight former staffers of newspaper News of the World to be charged with phone-hacking offences.

(POOL) - Prosecutors said on Tuesday (July 24) that Andy Coulson, British Prime Minster David Cameron's communications director for four years until 2011, and Rebekah Brooks, who oversaw Rupert Murdoch's News International, would face charges of conspiracy to intercept communications in the most significant development in a scandal that has rocked Britain's establishment.

The pair were amongst eight former News of the World (NOTW) staff charged with phone hacking.

"The eight who will be charged are: Rebekah Brooks, Andrew Coulson, Stuart Kuttner, Glenn Mulcaire, Greg Miskiw, Ian Edmondson, Neville Thurlbeck and James Weatherup. They will face a total of nineteen charges in all," announced Alison Levitt, Principal Legal Adviser to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The alleged offences were committed between 2000 and 2006 when both Brooks and Coulson served as editor of the News of the World, the salacious Sunday tabloid which Murdoch was forced to close a year ago amid public disgust at the phone hacking revelations.

Among the alleged victims were two former home secretaries (interior ministers), former 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.

Brooks and Coulson are also both accused of involvement in hacking the telephone of Milly Dowler, a missing schoolgirl who was later found murdered in 2002. Both have vehemently denied the allegation.

In a written statement Brooks said: "I am distressed and angry that the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) have reached this decision when they knew all the facts and were in a position to stop the case at this stage. 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 fo crime. I will vigourously defend these allegations."

Speaking to reporters outside his home in southeast London, Coulson said he was extremely disappointed by the decision.

I will fight these allegations when they eventually get to court," he said.

"At the News of the World we worked on behalf of the victims of crime, particularly violent crime, and the idea that I would then sit in my office dreaming up schemes to undermine investigations is simply untrue," he added.

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

Mulcaire, the private investigator at the heart of the phone hacking scandal, learned that he'd be charge with four offences shortly before the CPS announcement.

However the lawyer representing the phone hacking victims said the cases probably would not come to trial for at least a year.

"I know in 2006 they were saying that there wasn't any further evidence or things, but there were 11,000 pieces of paper, lots of emails, including emails that were destroyed which would undoubtedly have given names for the police's investigation," said Mark Lewis.

Six other senior former News of the World journalists and staff, including former reporter Neville Thrulbeck, are also to be charged - a formality to be completed by police on Tuesday.

The maximum sentence for the phone-hacking charges is two years in prison and/or a fine.

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