July 25, 2012
Criminal Charges Brought In News Corp. Phone-Hacking Scandal: Former News Of the World Top Editors Brooks and Coulson Indicted, Setting the Stage for Courtroom Drama In Murdoch Empire's Ongoing Saga
After a full year of raging controversy, finger-pointing and denial, prosecutors in Britain at last brought criminal charges this week against eight of the most prominent figures in the scandal, including Andy Coulson, who was Prime Minister David Cameron's communications chief until the scandal forced his resignation last year, and Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of Rupert Murdoch's newspaper empire in Britain until she, too, resigned last summer. Others who were indicted include five journalists who played prominent roles at the News of the World tabloid where both Brooks and Coulson were successive top editors from 2000 to 2006, the time that the hacking is alleged to have occurred, the NY Times reports. The criminal charges — and the possibility of prison terms if prosecutors win convictions — are a sharp turning point in the affair, adding possible high-profile courtroom drama to a saga that has already thrown the worlds of politics, policing and British journalism in Britain under a very critical microscope. Also charged was Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator who served a prison term in 2007, together with the News of the World's reporter specializing in coverage of Britain's royal family, for hacking into the cellphones of younger members of the royal family and their aides. Those convictions remain the only ones so far in the hacking furor, according to the Times report. "I am not guilty of these charges," Brooks said in a statement, referring to her time as News of the World editor, according to the Times report. "I did not authorize, nor was I aware of, phone hacking under my editorship," added Brooks, who also faces three criminal counts of conspiring to obstruct justice, prosecutors announced in May. She, her husband and four members of her staff at News International were accused of concealing documents, computers and other material from detectives investigating phone hacking at around the time the News of the World was closed. She also strenuously denied those charges, the Times reports.
After Tuesday's announcement by Alison Levitt, the senior legal adviser at the Crown Prosecution Service, headlines in Britain focused on Coulson and Brooks, both of whom have strong personal links to Cameron — Coulson through his years at Mr. Cameron's side, in and out of government, and Brooks because of the friendship she and her husband, Charlie Brooks, had with Cameron before the scandal erupted. Political analysts said the fact that the two now face criminal trials that seem certain to run on at least through the next year, attracting wide news coverage, posed a potentially serious hazard to the prime minister. With a general election due in 2015, the analysts said, Cameron and his party are now potentially vulnerable to any new revelations that might emerge from the trials, in the form of hitherto unpublished e-mails or testimony touching on the prime minister's dealings with Coulson or Brooks, the NY Times reports.
The prime minister's judgment in the affair — particularly his recruiting of Coulson as his party's media chief in 2007, and his decision to take him to Downing Street after the 2010 election, long after the hacking that took place on Coulson's watch at the News of the World became known — is already a major dent in Cameron's political armor. He has also faced extensive questioning as to whether his close relations with the Murdoch elite have skewed government policy favorably toward the media mogul, report Times writers John F. Burns and Ravi Somaiya.