LONDON -- Rebekah Brooks, the former chief of News International and confidante of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, is to be charged with obstructing justice in the phone-hacking scandal that has rocked Britain.
Prosecutors announced Tuesday that Brooks would be charged with three counts of "conspiracy to pervert the course of justice," all of them stemming from alleged attempts to conceal or remove evidence relating to the police probe into phone hacking and corruption at the News of the World and the Sun tabloids.
The charges are the most serious to be filed so far as a result of the investigation, and they represent a stunning reversal of fortune for Brooks, once one of Britain's most influential women, who oversaw all of Murdoch's newspapers in this country.
In addition, Brooks' husband, Charlie, is to be charged with two counts of obstructing justice.
Last July, in the days after the phone-hacking scandal broke wide open, a guard at the London apartment building where the Brooks maintain a flat discovered a laptop computer and various documents stuffed into a garbage bag and tossed into a trash can. The guard handed the items over to the police, from whom Charlie Brooks tried unsuccessfully to reclaim them, saying he had thrown them out by mistake in a mix-up with a colleague.
The couple issued a statement calling the decision to charge them "weak and unjust," according to Britain's Press Assn. They accused prosecutors of "unprecedented posturing."
Besides Rebekah and Charlie Brooks, prosecutors have also decided to press charges of obstructing justice against four other people, including Rebekah Brooks' former personal assistant and her chauffeur.
The charges against all six suspects relate to their actions during the first two weeks after the hacking scandal exploded last summer amid allegations that the News of the World had illegally tapped into the voicemails of a kidnapped teenager who was later found slain.
In one of the charges, Brooks and her assistant, Cheryl Carter, are alleged to have tried to remove seven boxes of material from the archive of News International, the British subsidiary of Murdoch's giant News Corp.
"There is sufficient evidence for there to be a realistic prospect of conviction," prosecutor Alison Levitt said of the charges.
She added that no charges would be filed against an unnamed seventh person who had also been under investigation.
-- Henry Chu
Photo: Former chief executive of News International Rebekah Brooks, right, and her husband Charlie Brooks leave the High Court in central London. Credit: Leon Neal /AFP/Getty Images