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News of the World phone-hacking trial kicks off in UK

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-10-28

Former News International CEO Rebekah Brooks (pictured) and the British PM's former media chief, Andy Coulson, appeared in court Monday to face charges that include hacking private voicemails, bribing public officials and hiding evidence.

Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, who once commanded one of the most powerful newspapers in Britain before rising to even more influential positions, were in the dock on Monday at the start of a trial that will investigate the seamy doings of the Fleet Street media.

The trial, which began Monday with the selection of jurors, stems from the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World, a Sunday tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch. More than 100 witnesses are due to appear and the trial is scheduled to run for at least six months, which would make it one of Britain’s longest criminal trials.

The charges include illegally hacking mobile phone voicemails and bribing public officials for stories.

Brooks edited the News of the World from 2001 to 2003 before moving to its daily counterpart, The Sun and eventually became chief executive of all Rupert Murdoch’s British newspapers. She faces five charges related to alleged crimes spread over a decade. Coulson succeeded Brooks at the News of the World and later became the press secretary to Prime Minister David Cameron. He faces three charges.

Also on trial are Brooks’ husband, Charlie, who is a racehorse trainer, her former assistant, Cheryl Carter, Mark Hanna, the former security chief at News International and three other senior News of the World journalists: Stuart Kuttner, Ian Edmondson and Clive Goodman.

In addition to phone hacking, Brooks and Coulson are charged with conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office, which covers bribing officials such as police and prison guards. The other News of the World journalists face related charges. Rebekah and Charlie Brooks, Carter and Hanna are also accused of conspiring to pervert the course of justice by removing material from the company archive and withholding computers and documents from police.

All the defendants deny all the charges

The charges stem from a scandal that erupted in July 2011 when The Guardian revealed that the News of the World had hacked the voicemails of Milly Dowler, a missing schoolgirl who was later found murdered. Murdoch responded by taking the opportunity to shut down the News of the World, which had been published for 168 years and launch the Sun on Sunday to replace it.

It was not the first phone hacking scandal involving the News of the World. In 2005 it was accused of hacking the royal family’s mobile phones. Goodman, the paper’s royal editor correspondent and Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator, went to prison but no senior executives were implicated. Coulson was editor of the paper at the time but was still hired by the Conservative Party as its director of communications in 2007. He moved his base to Downing Street when Cameron became Prime Minister in 2010.

When the second scandal broke in 2011, it spread rapidly and explosively, rapidly engulfing News International executives, other newspapers and the police.

“There was an orgy of phone hacking for a decade,” John Mair, author of 'The Phone Hacking Scandal: Journalism on Trial’, told FRANCE 24 on Monday.

Cameron ordered a public enquiry which was led by judge Brian Leveson and heard evidence on the scandal from all the players from Murdoch down. Leveson recommended that the British newspapers be more tightly supervised, a suggestion they are fighting.

“Some of the revelations in the trial will lead to more and more public disgust with the press,” Mair said.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-10-28

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