High-profile British phone-hacking trial begins

Reuters

* Rebekah Brooks, Murdoch's ex-UK newspaper chief, on trial

* David Cameron's ex-media head, Andy Coulson, also charged

* Both deny phone-hacking charges

By Michael Holden and Kate Holton

LONDON, Oct 28 (Reuters) - Rupert Murdoch's former Britishnewspaper chief and Prime Minister David Cameron's ex-media headwent on trial for phone hacking on Monday at the start of one ofBritain's most high profile court cases in years.

Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, both former editors ofMurdoch's now defunct News of the World tabloid, are accused ofconspiring to illegally access voicemail messages on mobilephones belonging to politicians, the rich and famous, andvictims of crime and ordinary people, to obtain exclusive news.

The two, who face trial with six others, deny all charges.

The scandal sent shockwaves through the Britishestablishment and shook Murdoch's News Corp empire.

It revealed the close ties between press barons, policechiefs and senior politicians. The media industry is still atloggerheads with Cameron's government over how it should beregulated.

"This trial concerns allegations of criminal conduct at theNews of the World and the Sun newspapers which preceded theclosure of the News of the World," the judge, Justice JohnSaunders, said as jury selection began for the trial.

"It's an important case. The trial we are about to startwill take a considerable length of time. It's estimated the casemay last until Easter."

Detectives launched an investigation in January 2011 andsince then more than 125 people have been arrested and more than40 charged.

The most prominent are Coulson, 45, and Brooks, a closefriend of Cameron. He attended her wedding in 2009 along withthe then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Brooks, 45, was the first female editor of Murdoch'stop-selling Sun paper and had risen to become head of NewsInternational, News Corp's British newspaper arm, whenthe furore over phone-hacking led to her resignation.

DISTRACTION FOR GOVERNMENT

Coulson, who quit the News of the World in 2007, had actedas Cameron's communications chief until he resigned in 2011saying the issue had become a distraction for the government.

They were both arrested in July 2011 and later charged withconspiracy to illegally intercept communications.

Brooks is also accused of two counts of conspiracy to commitmisconduct in a public office during her time at the Sun, andtwo counts of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice byhampering the police inquiry.

Coulson is additionally charged with two counts ofconspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.

They sat next to each other in the dock as jury selectionbegan in a small, modern courtroom packed with media and about20 of Britain's top lawyers.

The judge warned the potential jurors they must ignore anyof the mass of details about the allegations that have appearedin the media and decide the case only on the evidence that wouldbe put before them.

Joining Coulson and Brooks in the dock are Stuart Kuttner,the long-time former managing editor of the News of the World,Ian Edmondson, the tabloid's ex-news editor, Clive Goodman, thepaper's former royal editor, Cheryl Carter, Brooks's personalassistant, Brooks's racehorse trainer husband Charlie, and MarkHanna, News International's head of security.

They all deny similar charges to those against Brooks andCoulson. The trial will get fully under way on Tuesday whenprosecutors outline their case.

Dozens of other journalists are due to go on trial inconnection with hacking next year following the conclusion ofthis case, while police are also actively considering bringingcorporate charges against Murdoch's British newspaper business.

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