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British prime minister's ex-aide charged in phone-hacking scandal

July 24, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
A former aide to the British prime minister and a one-time protege to Rupert Murdoch were among eight people charged in a phone-hacking scandal in Britain. They are accused of playing key roles in campaign of illegal espionage against hundreds of people, including Hollywood stars.

The Crown Prosecution Service's Alison Levitt announced Tuesday that Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks - both former editors of Murdoch's now-shuttered News of the World tabloid - were among those being charged with conspiring to intercept the communications of more than 600 people between Oct. 3, 2000, and Aug. 9, 2006.

The charges may further embarrass Prime Minister David Cameron, who hired Coulson as his chief communications adviser and once counted Brooks and her horse training husband Charlie in his circle of friends.

Also among those named Tuesday are senior News of the World journalists Stuart Kuttner, Greg Miskiw, Neville Thurlbeck, James Weatherup and Ian Edmondson. Private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, whose extensive notes have long been at the center of the scandal, is also being prosecuted.

Phone hacking first came to public attention in 2006, when police arrested Mulcaire and the News of the World's then-royal editor Clive Goodman on suspicion of hacking into the voicemails of members of Britain's royal household. Coulson quit as the tabloid's editor after the pair was convicted, but insisted he'd had no inkling of their wrongdoing.

For the next five years, the tabloid's owner, Murdoch's News Corp., would insist that the illegal activity was an aberration - the work of single rogue reporter. But lawsuits and enterprising reporting by the Guardian and The New York Times eventually exposed the cover-up. Under pressure, police reopened their investigation.

News Corp. began to change its tune. Stony denials turned into apologies sweetened with big settlements. And detectives swooped in on Thurlbeck, the paper's chief reporter, and Edmonson, its news editor.

Still, it wasn't until the Guardian revealed that the News of the World had hacked into the voicemail of 13-year-old Milly Dowler - a school girl whose 2002 disappearance and murder transfixed the nation - that the scandal really exploded. Britons who might've shrugged off celebrity intrusion were horrified by the news that reporters had violated the privacy of a dead girl to hunt for scoops about her whereabouts.

Politicians who once assiduously courted the Australian tycoon have rushed to distance themselves from him. Meanwhile Murdoch has distanced himself - and his son James - from News Corp.'s British newspaper arm, shutting the News of the World, resigning from a series of directorships and pulling James back to New York.

Three of Scotland Yard's top officers have resigned over their failure to get to grips with the scandal; dozens of journalists, media executives, and public figures have been arrested or resigned. The country's media regulator - widely discredited by the scandal - has been scrapped.

On Monday, Scotland Yard's Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers told Leveson that detectives are seeking evidence from two newspaper companies that are rivals of Murdochs' and looking into more than 100 claims of computer hacking, improper access to medical records and other misconduct stemming from the scandal.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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