British media figures in phone-hacking trial

Updated: 2013-10-28 07:04

By Danny Kemp in London (China Daily)

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Murdoch's key aide and Cameron's former PR chief among defendants

The first trial from the phone-hacking scandal that sank Rupert Murdoch's News of the World opens in Britain on Monday 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 will 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 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 on Monday, 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-lynchpin for Cameron.

Brooks, 45, 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 confidantes, denies phone hacking, conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office, and perverting the course of justice.

Brooks' racehorse trainer husband Charlie, 50, 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, 45, 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 this is the first time that criminal charges will be put to the alleged key players.

Political commentator Peter Oborne wrote in the Daily Telegraph newspaper: "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."

Oborne said that "much of the fascination will be human" but stressed that the trial was of "extraordinary political significance".

A second trial involving several Sun journalists accused of bribing officials is provisionally due to start in February.

The scandal erupted in July 2011 with revelations that the News of the World had hacked the voicemails of Milly Dowler, a missing schoolgirl who was later found murdered, and led to the closure of the paper after 168 years in print.

The eight people going on trial on Monday are the first among the dozens that have been arrested as part of a huge, multifaceted police investigation into criminal practices by Britain's famously raucous press.

Agence France-Presse

(China Daily 10/28/2013 page11)