Eight of Fleet Street’s most prominent tabloid journalists face multiple charges of phone hacking, the Crown Prosecution Service announced Tuesday, one year after the phone-hacking scandal erupted at Rupert Murdoch’s best-selling Sunday tabloid, News of the World.
The nineteen charges of phone interception relate to a number of high-profile figures, from celebrities such as Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, Jude Law and Sienna Miller, and Sir Paul McCartney to senior British politicians, such as the former deputy prime minister John Prescott and the former home secretary Charles Clarke. But the most emotive relates to the hacking of the phone of Milly Dowler, the 13-year-old schoolgirl who went missing in March 2002 and whose body was found six months later. The revelation that her phone had been hacked precipitated what Prime Minister David Cameron called a “firestorm” of scandal and led to the closure of the 168-year-old newspaper.
The most high profile of those charged include Rebekah Brooks, once a close confidante of the Murdoch family and a friend of the prime minister, who resigned as CEO of News International, News Corp.’s U.K. publishing arm, last summer. She is already facing three charges of perverting the course of justice in a court case that will begin in a few months. Brooks was the youngest editor of News of the World, from 2000 to 2003, when she was replaced by her deputy and friend Andy Coulson.
Coulson was editor of the News of the World until January 2007, when he resigned in the wake of the trial of private detective Glenn Mulcaire and the tabloid’s royal editor, Clive Goodman. They had been found guilty of accessing the voicemails of staff at Clarence House, mainly aides to the royal princes. Months later, Coulson was recruited by the leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, and the shadow chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, to become head of communications for the opposition party. Coulson entered No. 10 Downing Street as Cameron’s chief press officer when the coalition government was formed in May 2010. Andy Coulson already faces charges of perjury in Scotland related to phone hacking.
Soon after the CPS announced its decision, Rebekah Brooks made the following statement through her lawyers: “I am not guilty of these charges. I did not authorise, nor was I aware of, phone hacking under my editorship. I am distressed and angry that the CPS have reached this decision when they knew all the facts and were in a position to stop the case at this stage. The charge concerning Milly Dowler is particularly upsetting not only as it is untrue but also because I have spent my journalistic career campaigning for victims of crime. I will vigorously defend these allegations.”
While the high-profile forthcoming trials will continue to create misery both for Rupert Murdoch and David Cameron, the announcement is also momentous day for Britain’s tabloid press, as the six other charged represent some of the most famous names in Fleet Street.
Stuart Kuttner was managing editor of News of the World for 22 years, until he retired in 2009. James Weatherup, Ian Edmondson, and Greg Miskiw were senior reporters and assistant editors, the latter infamously quoted as saying "That is what we do—we go out and destroy other people's lives.” Neville Thurlbeck was the chief reporter for News of the World. The private investigator Glenn Mulcaire faces four additional charges, despite having been sentenced to prison for six months in 2007.
Of the thirteen files handed to the police last month, the CPS has decided not to prosecute three others and referred two more back to the police for further investigation. All these prosecutions have come about through Operation Weeting, one of Scotland Yard’s biggest investigations, involving almost a hundred police officers. Hundreds of phone-hacking victims have also filed civil suits against the subsidiary of News Corp.
Meanwhile, a related investigation, Operation Elveden, has arrested over a dozen journalists at the now-defunct News of the World's daily sister tabloid, The Sun, on suspicion of illegal payments to police and other public employees. This has attracted the attention of the Department of Justice in the U.S., which has launched its own investigation under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which could see News Corp. liable under U.S. law for corruption of public officials. Both the SEC and the FBI have been cooperating with British investigators.