LONDON -- Prosecutors announced criminal charges Tuesday against eight people in connection with Britain's phone-hacking scandal, including a onetime confidante of media baron Rupert Murdoch and a former senior aide to Prime Minister David Cameron.
The eight suspects are accused of illegally tapping into the cellphones of celebrities, politicians and others in the public spotlight, including a teenage kidnap victim who was later found slain. All worked at one time for the News of the World, a tabloid that was notorious for its ruthless pursuit of sensational stories before Murdoch shut it down last year as a result of the hacking scandal.
Among those to be charged is Rebekah Brooks, once a trusted Murdoch lieutenant who headed his British newspapers, including the News of the World, before she resigned in disgrace.
Also facing charges is Andy Coulson, a former editor at the controversial tabloid who served as the prime minister's communications advisor before stepping down early last year. Coulson's involvement in the furor over phone hacking has been deeply embarrassing for Cameron, whose government has been accused of being too cozy with the Murdoch media empire.
The six others to be charged include former senior journalists at the News of the World and a private investigator hired by the newsweekly to ferret out scoops.
Prosecutor Alison Levitt said cellphones belonging to such celebrities as actors Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Jude Law had been illegally broken into. Singer Paul McCartney was another alleged victim, as were high-profile lawmakers.
Overall, with the exception of the private investigator, Levitt said those facing charges Tuesday had conspired to hack into the phones of more than 600 victims over a six-year period, beginning in the fall of 2000.
"Prosecution is required in the public interest," she said.
However, in the case of three additional suspects whom she did not identify, Levitt said there was insufficient evidence to warrant charges. At the request of police, prosecutors are also deferring a decision on whether to charge two other people.
Over the past year, Scotland Yard has arrested dozens of people, mostly journalists, in three separate investigations encompassing phone hacking, computer hacking and improper payments to public officials for information.
It was a year ago this month that the phone-hacking scandal broke wide open, following the discovery that the News of the World had intercepted messages left on the cellphone of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old girl who was abducted in 2002. Her body was found a short time after her disappearance.
Amid public revulsion over the revelation, Murdoch summarily shut down the News of the World, made a public apology and was called to appear for questioning before members of Parliament.
Top executives at News International, the British arm of Murdoch’s giant News Corp., resigned, including Brooks, who has denied any knowledge of phone hacking at the News of the World despite being the tabloid's editor at the time that Milly's voicemails were intercepted.
The scandal shone a light on the cozy relationships between pillars of British public life: the media, politicians and the police.
Since last July, the government has launched a judicial inquiry into media ethics and practices that is supposed to produce new proposals for regulating Britain's unruly media establishment.
-- Henry Chu
Photo: Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in July 2011. Credit: Max Nash / AFP/Getty Images