London: The first trial in the phone-hacking scandal that sank Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World opened Monday with the tycoon’s key aide Rebekah Brooks in the dock alongside the British prime minister’s former media chief Andy Coulson.
The two former editors of the tabloid are among eight defendants facing a jury for the first time over the scandal that sent shockwaves through British politics.
Flame-haired Brooks, 45, arrived at the Old Bailey court in London to a storm of photographers’ flashes, accompanied by her racehorse trainer husband Charlie, who is also on trial.
The defendants face charges ranging from illegally hacking the mobile phone voicemails of a murdered schoolgirl and celebrities such as Paul McCartney, to bribing public officials for stories and hiding evidence.
They all deny the allegations against them.
Brooks tapped out notes on an iPad as she sat alongside the other defendants in the glass-fronted dock, listening as judge John Saunders heard initial legal arguments ahead of the selection of a jury.
Some 80 potential jurors later crammed into the wood-panelled courtroom and were warned that the trial could last up to six months.
“To sit on a jury for this length of time, five or six months, is a significant disruption in people’s lives, and we do appreciate that,” Saunders told them.
The 12-person jury is expected to hear explosive evidence about the scandal that forced Australian-born Murdoch to shut down the News of the World in disgrace in 2011.
Dubbed the “trial of the century” by one media commentator, proceedings opened Monday but the prosecution’s opening statement was not expected until at least Tuesday, when the jury is set to be sworn in.
The main players are Brooks, formerly chief executive of Murdoch’s British newspaper operations, News International, and Coulson, the savvy tabloid journalist who became Cameron’s director of communications.
From secretary to confidante
From secretary to confidante
Murdoch tweeted about the trial last month: “Remember, everyone innocent until proven guilty, entitled to fair trial in most countries.”
Brooks’ 50-year-old husband, her personal assistant Cheryl Carter and former News International security chief Mark Hanna are accused of obstructing justice along with Brooks by hiding evidence in the chaotic last days of the News of the World.
Brooks — who rose from secretary to editor and became one of Murdoch’s closest confidantes — is charged with phone hacking, conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office, and perverting the course of justice.
Coulson is accused of hacking and paying officials for a Buckingham Palace phone directory containing contact details for senior royals.
Also on trial are former News of the World managing editor Stuart Kuttner and head of news Ian Edmondson — charged with phone hacking — and the paper’s royal editor Clive Goodman, who is accused of bribing officials.
A public inquiry ordered by Cameron heard evidence on the scandal, but this is the first time that criminal charges will be put to the alleged key players.
A second trial involving several journalists from the News of the World’s sister paper The Sun, accused of bribing officials, will take place next year.
The scandal erupted in July 2011 with revelations that the News of the World had hacked the mobile phone voicemails of Milly Dowler, a missing 13-year-old girl who was later found murdered.
Cameron has since faced questions about his decision to employ Coulson, his media chief from 2007 to 2011, as well as his friendship with Brooks and her husband.
The eight people on trial are among dozens arrested as part of a huge police investigation into criminal practices by Britain’s famously raucous press.
The fallout from the scandal is still being felt.
Murdoch’s New York-based News Corp has paid out millions of pounds (dollars, euros) to hacking victims and the tycoon has divided his empire into two companies, separating the television and film business from the newspaper and publishing arm.
Meanwhile Britain’s newspaper industry is fighting the introduction of tough new regulatory measures.
The papers say the government’s plan for a new watchdog, backed by a so-called “royal charter”, is tantamount to state regulation of the press.