Murdoch Protege Charged With 'Perversion Of Justice'

Ex-News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks, her husband and four others have been charged with alleged perversion of justice in the phone hacking scandal that has shaken the Rupert Murdoch media empire.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Rupert Murdoch trusted protege, Rebekah Brooks, is facing criminal charges in Britain. Brooks, her husband, and four other people were charged today with interfering with a police investigation into the phone hacking scandal. Brooks ran Murdoch's U.K. arm, News International, until she stepped down last year.

As Vicki Barker reports, these are the first criminal charges to be filed since police reopened their investigation in early 2011.

VICKI BARKER, BYLINE: In late March, police gave British prosecutors the files on their ongoing investigation into alleged illegal phone hacking at the News of the World and at another Murdoch tabloid, The Sun. The documents identified seven people who may have conspired to pervert the course of justice, a serious crime here.

Today, in a rare televised statement, senior prosecutor Alison Levitt, announced the result of her deliberations.

ALISON LEVITT: I have concluded that, in relation to all suspects, except the seventh, there is sufficient evidence for there to be a realistic prospect of conclusion of conviction.

BARKER: Levitt said it was also clear that a full criminal trial would be in the public interest, but British viewers and listeners already knew that. True to her tabloid roots, Rebekah Brooks had leaked the news minutes before the official announcement.

Charged along with Brooks, her horse trainer husband, Charlie Brooks, and four of her former staffers at News International, her assistant, her chauffer, her head of security and a security staffer. A second security official, that seventh suspect, will not be prosecuted.

Among other things, Brooks is accused of removing seven boxes of material from the News International archives and concealing documents, computers and other electronic equipment from the police last July. That's when Brooks stepped down as chief executive of News International and Rupert Murdoch closed down the News of the World.

Speaking after reporting to a London police station, Brooks seemed angriest that people who had worked for her had been targeted unfairly, she insisted.

REBEKAH BROOKS: Even News International's harshest critics can't wish to see today people with no involvement of the central issues being treated like this and being involved like this.

BARKER: She called the decision to prosecute weak and unjust and said the upcoming trial would be a waste of public money. Charlie Brooks accused police and prosecutors of a witch hunt against his wife. He felt confident of getting a fair trial, he said.

CHARLIE BROOKS: But I have grave reservations that my wife can ever get a fair trial, given the huge volume of biased commentary that she is constantly subjected to. We will fight this in court.

BARKER: In fact, the minute the charges were announced, Britain's army of media pundits fell silent. Once criminal charges are brought in the U.K., the case is sub-judice. Coverage cannot be seen in any way to be prejudicing the outcome of a trial, as Lis Howell of London's City University Journalism School explains.

LIS HOWELL: Most of us just go completely schtum after criminal charges come out.

BARKER: So how is this going to affect coverage of the phone hacking scandal?

HOWELL: I am not going to speak about the phone hacking scandal for exactly the reasons that we've just talked about.

BARKER: There has been no comment, either, from Prime Minister David Cameron, a close friend of the couple. Their first court appearance is scheduled for June 13th.

For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London.

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