Phone-Hacking Trial Begins In U.K.

Renee Montagne talks to NPR's Philip Reeves about the start of the News of the World phone-hacking trial in London. Among others, two former editors of the now-defunct tabloid — Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks — have been charged with a raft of offenses, including some that carry a prison sentence.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It was two years ago that Rupert Murdoch's media empire was rocked by allegations that his British tabloid, The News of the World, hacked into the voicemail of a missing teenaged girl. As a result of the scandal, the paper - founded in the 1800s - was shut down. Dozens of journalists and a few police were arrested. Today, the trial opens in London for some of Murdoch's former top U.K. executives. Among the defendants: a past editor, Rebekah Brooks, and Andy Coulson, another former editor who later worked for the prime minster.

We're joined from London's criminal courthouse, Old Bailey, by NPR's Philip Reeves. Good morning.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: So, people are describing this as the most high-profile case in years. Tell us about that.

REEVES: Well, it offers the prospect of a rare insight into Rupert Murdoch's empire, particularly into the operation of his company here in the United Kingdom, where he has newspapers and big interests and satellite TV. Rebekah Brooks was not only a former editor of the News of the World, but she was also CEO of News Corp's British arm, News International. And I think the other reason is that several of the defendants were at the heart of political power in this country. Brooks was a member of the social set of the prime minister, David Cameron, and Andy Coulson was Cameron's former director of communications at 10 Downing Street. So there's a great deal of interest about what we may or may not discover about the inner circle around the prime minister of this country.

MONTAGNE: Well, tell us what they're - generally speaking - charged with doing. How did it get to this point, a trial?

REEVES: Well, the context of it is the outrage that erupted after allegations that the News of the World had hacked into a school girl's voice mail. That school girl was, of course, found to be murdered. But it grew into something much, much bigger after the police launched what was a massive inquiry. And it spiraled into allegations of thousands of voicemail intercepts involving celebrities and politicians and others. That's the context of it. The specific charge is that the eight defendants in this case are faced with - break up into three, really, three groups. One is allegations of hacking. One is an alleged cover-up. And the third is alleged payoffs to public officials. But not all of the eight defendants are accused of those things. It's important to stress that.

MONTAGNE: And the scene this morning, there at the Old Bailey courthouse? What's that like?

REEVES: Well, there are hundreds and hundreds of trials at the Old Bailey every year, but rarely one that attracts as much excitement and interest as this. The media is here, in force, from all over the world. And it was sort of rather bizarre, because the morning began with one of the worst storms to sweep through southern England in years. And so this gathering assembled beneath wild and stormy clouds, and in very, very windy streets.

MONTAGNE: And, just finally, what can we expect to happen today?

REEVES: Today, the first item on the agenda is jury selection. And then after that, there will be statement by the prosecution, which we expect to outline the allegations against the defendants. We don't know when that'll be.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Philip Reeves, speaking to us from the Old Bailey Courthouse in London. Thanks very much.

REEVES: You're welcome.

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