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Phone hacking scandal: Two UK media leaders charged with conspiracy

Rebekah Brooks and Andrew Coulson are among those who were charged with conspiracy today in a scandal that embarrassed Prime Minister Cameron's administration.

Andrew Coulson, the former spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron makes a statement to the press outside his home in Dulwich, southeast London, July 24. Mr. Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, the former head of Rupert Murdoch's UK News Corp., are to be charged with phone-hacking offenses.

Paul Hackett/Reuters

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Two prominent British media figures are charged with conspiracy today together with six others in a phone-hacking scandal that has felled much of Rupert Murdoch’s British tabloid news empire and shaken the British political establishment since coming to light last summer.

Rebekah Brooks, former head of Mr. Murdoch’s UK News Corp.; Andy Coulson, a former Murdoch chief editor and Prime Minister David Cameron’s ex-media chief; and six of 27 others who have been arrested in the past year are involved. They are charged with conspiracy in using often salacious or painfully personal material gained from illegally hacked cellphones as fodder for tabloid stories, embarrassing Mr. Cameron's administration. 

As editors wielding enormous clout in the shaping of British media stories, Ms. Brooks and Mr. Coulson were much feared and often hated by British politicians and elites as the engines of a Murdoch machine that made and broke members of parliament and prime ministers. The two figures deny any involvement in phone hacking.

Martin Moore, director of the UK-based Media Standards Trust, argues that prosecutors did not necessarily have to bring charges at this point, implying there must have been enough evidence already to make a case, “and we shall see how much this amounts to over the next few months. But they have sped up the process.”

British police have alleged as many as 4,700 cases of phone hacking, but prosecutors are charging some 600 instances from 2002 to 2006. 

The cellphones of British royals and celebrities were long known to be hacked as grist for embarrassing tabloid headlines. But the practice also spread to the phones of ordinary Brits, including war veterans and minors. 

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