Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, former lead editors of the News of the World tabloid in Britain, were among eight former News Corp. journalists charged with intercepting voice mail to get stories.
The group was charged with hacking offenses between 2000 and 2006 that involved about 600 victims, including U.S. actors Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and murdered British schoolgirl Milly Dowler, who was kidnapped in 2002, the Crown Prosecution Service said in London today.
News Corp., the New York-based company controlled by Chairman Rupert Murdoch, a friend of Brooks, is trying to move on from the scandal that has resulted in more than 60 arrests, civil lawsuits and a media-ethics inquiry by splitting the company into separate entertainment and publishing arms. Murdoch shuttered the 168-year-old tabloid a year ago to contain public outrage over hacking.
“There is sufficient evidence for there to be a realistic prospect of conviction in relation to one or more offenses,” Alison Levitt, the principal legal adviser to Britain’s director of public prosecutions, said at a press conference.
Others charged include former managing editor Stuart Kuttner, former news editor Ian Edmondson, former chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck, former assistant editor Greg Miskiw, former assistant news editor James Weatherup and former private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, who worked for the tabloid.
The agency decided against charging three others who were under investigation and will announce a decision later in relation to two other suspects after the Metropolitan Police Service asked for a delay. Prosecutors made today’s decision based on evidence from police, which opened a new probe into phone-hacking in January 2011.
“I am not guilty of these charges,” Brooks said today in an e-mailed statement. “I did not authorize, nor was I aware of, phone hacking under my editorship.”
Jo Rickards, a lawyer at DLA Piper LLP representing Coulson, declined to comment on the charges against her client, who served as U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s press chief after leaving the News of the World.
“It’s not a day that reflects well on politics or the press,” John Whittingdale, the chairman of the House of Commons Culture Committee, told Sky News television. “But it’s a part of the process of ensuring that this sort of thing can never happen again.”
Henri Brandman, who represents Thurlbeck, didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment. Edmondson didn’t immediately return a call.
The group, aside from Mulcaire, was charged with conspiring to intercept communications “without lawful authority,” the CPS said. They also each face separate claims related to specific victims, including politicians and family members of celebrities.
The phone-hacking probe, known as Operation Weeting, runs parallel to investigations of computer hacking and bribery by reporters and editors at the News of the World and another News Corp. (NWSA:US) tabloid, the Sun, Britain’s best-selling daily title, where the bribery arrests have focused.
Two previous police probes failed to uncover the extent of hacking.
Brooks, who was chief executive officer of News Corp.’s U.K. unit, News International, was charged in relation to the hacking of Dowler’s mobile-phone messages and those of Andy Gilchrist, a former union leader who sued the company in February claiming his phone was hacked.
Coulson quit as Cameron’s top media adviser in January 2011 over claims phone hacking took place when he edited the tabloid. The ex-editor was charged in relation to Dowler, politicians David Blunkett and Charles Clarke and reality-television star Calum Best, the son of a soccer player.
Brooks was previously charged in May with perverting the course of justice by conspiring with her husband and others to remove evidence from the company’s archives and cover up the hacking scandal. She had already been arrested in July 2011 in the probes into phone hacking and bribery.
Weatherup was charged in relation to hacking the phones of Pitt, Jolie, England soccer player Wayne Rooney and actress Sienna Miller, whose 2010 lawsuit against News International uncovered evidence of widespread hacking and triggered the new police probe. He was also charged with hacking the phone of former-Beatle Paul McCartney and his ex-wife Heather Mills.
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