LONDON — Two former News of the World editors, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, were told Wednesday they will face trial in September next year over claims of phone hacking at the now-defunct tabloid newspaper.
Brooks, Coulson and half a dozen other former News of the World managers and staffers accused of conspiring to hack voice mail messages remained free on bail after the hearing at London’s main criminal court.
A proposed trial date was set at the Old Bailey for September 9, 2013.
The phone hacking accusations have reverberated through the top levels of British politics and journalism and prompted a parliamentary committee to issue damning criticism of Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp. owned the News of the World through its UK subsidiary, News International.
After the scandal, Murdoch stepped down from a string of company directorships and abandoned a multibillion-dollar bid to acquire satellite broadcaster BSkyB.
Suspected hacking victims include some of the world’s biggest celebrities, including Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Jude Law, Paul McCartney and soccer star Wayne Rooney, as well as victims of crime and the July 7, 2005, London terrorist attacks.
Brooks and Coulson were close to British Prime Minister David Cameron. Coulson, who edited the News of the World from 2003 to 2007, went on to become Cameron’s director of communications before resigning early last year. Brooks was a friend of the prime minister and his wife.
Brooks, formerly chief executive of News of the World’s parent company, News International, part of Murdoch’s News Corp. empire, also faces a charge of perverting the course of justice.
But the most explosive charge against her is plotting in 2002 to eavesdrop illegally on the voice mail of missing British schoolgirl Milly Dowler, who was later found murdered.
Public anger after the revelation last year that the missing girl’s phone had been hacked forced Murdoch to close the News of the World, which Brooks edited at the time of the hacking. She then became editor of The Sun newspaper before taking up the chief executive role.
Brooks, Coulson and fellow former News of the World employees Stuart Kuttner, Greg Miskiw, Ian Edmondson, Neville Thurlbeck and James Weatherup are accused of conspiring between October 3, 2000, and August 9, 2006, “to intercept communications in the course of their transmission, without lawful authority.”
Specifically, the charge asserts that they listened to “voice mail messages of well-known people.”
Brooks, Coulson, Kuttner, Miskiw, Thurlbeck and Glenn Mulcaire face an additional charge of intercepting Dowler’s messages.
Brooks, her husband Charlie Brooks and a former personal assistant also face a separate set of charges of conspiring to obstruct the police investigation into phone hacking. They were charged in May, along with Brooks’ former driver, a security guard and members of News International security staff, with attempting to pervert the course of justice.
The hacking scandal prompted Cameron to set up an independent judge-led inquiry — named for Lord Justice Leveson, its chairman — to make recommendations on journalistic ethics and examine the relationship of the press with the public, police and politicians.
— CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark contributed to this report.