LONDON -- A dozen defendants in a landmark phone-hacking inquiry tied to Rupert Murdoch's News International newspaper group appeared Wednesday in London's Central Criminal Court for pre-trial hearings.
Andy Coulson, former press secretary to British Prime Minister David Cameron and ex-editor of the defunct tabloid News of the World, and Rebekah Brooks, another former News of the World editor and onetime News International CEO, were among those who crowded into the 45-minute hearing.
Other defendants present included five other erstwhile News of the World editors and journalists and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, who allegedly intercepted private phone communications on behalf of journalists.
A prosecution spokesperson said 12 of the 14 defendants in the case attended the hearings in Court No. 1 to hear the charges in connection with the alleged conspiracy to intercept voice mail messages, mostly those of celebrities and their associates. Presiding Judge Adrian Fulford granted bail to all the defendants until the proposed opening trial date on Sept. 9, 2013.
Brooks, who socialized with Cameron while she was on Murdoch's executive staff, was also charged during a separate hearing with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in the phone-hacking inquiries, as were her husband, Charlie Brooks, and five members of her staff. The allegations in that matter include attempting to hide and remove evidence of phone hacking from police and making illegal payments to public officials.
Wednesday's hearings came amid ongoing legal and civil investigations into media practices after revelations in July 2011 that News of the World journalists illegally hacked into the phone of missing teenager Milly Dowler, who was abducted in March 2003 and later found murdered.
Investigations have revealed that illegal phone hacking by Murdoch-owned tabloids has affected hundreds of celebrities and people in the public eye, including actors Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Jude Law and Sienna Miller. Other targets included J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter novels, and politicians, crime victims and their families and associates.
News International has paid out millions of dollars in out-of-court settlements in the matter and is openly collaborating with police, who have arrested dozens of journalists, media executives and public officials in connection with the investigation.
-- Janet Stobart
Photo: Rebekah Brooks leaves London's Central Criminal Court. Credit: AFP/Getty Images