Britain Dials-Up Charges in Phone Hacking Scandal

Posted May 15th, 2012 at 10:05 am (UTC-5)
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The high profile, ex-editor of a British tabloid is facing charges in a phone-hacking scandal that has shaken the country's political establishment.

Prosecutors Tuesday announced charges against Rebekah Brooks, her husband and four of her employees at the News of the World and The Sun newspapers for perverting the course of justice. They accused Brooks and the others of hiding key documents, computers and other electronic equipment from police in the days after the scandal broke.

Brooks and her husband are close friends with British Prime Minister David Cameron. Mr. Cameron even sent Brooks text messages offering support in the scandal's immediate aftermath.

The charges are the first since Britain re-launched its investigation into allegations reporters at a newspaper owned by media mogul Robert Murdoch hacked into private cell phones, including some belonging to members of Britain's royal family. The charges carry a maximum penalty of life in prison, though most sentences tend to be shorter.

Brooks and her husband issued a statement through their lawyer, calling the charges “weak and unjust.”

The 43-year-old Brooks had started at the bottom level of Murdoch's News International empire and quickly worked her way to the top. Her close relationship with Murdoch led some to nickname her Murdoch's “fifth daughter.”

Earlier this month, Britain's parliament released a report concluding Murdoch had shown willful blindness in the News of the World scandal and is not fit to run a global media company.

The report also said Murdoch's News Corporation had misled parliament and tried to cover up illegal phone-hacking. It said there had been huge failures in corporate governance, which raised questions about the competence of Rupert Murdoch's son, James.

News Corporation responded after the release of the report, admitting that the investigation had revealed some “hard truths.” But it also criticized some of the conclusions, calling them “unjustified and highly partisan.”

Murdoch shut down News of the World last July after the scandal erupted, and his media empire has agreed to large payouts to 37 phone-hacking victims, including celebrities, politicians and crime victims.

The 81-year-old mogul also owns British newspapers The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun.

In all, about 40 people have been arrested due to probes into the illegal news gathering and bribery scandals.