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Former Cameron aide, Murdoch ally charged with phone hacking

By Richard Allen Greene and Jo Shelley, CNN
updated 11:08 PM EDT, Tue July 24, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Andy Coulson says he's disappointed and vows to fight the charges in court
  • Murdoch confidant Rebekah Brooks says she is distressed and angry about being charged
  • News of the World ex-reporter Neville Thurlbeck says he followed editors' instructions
  • Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Paul McCartney are among alleged celebrity victims

London (CNN) -- British prosecutors have charged a former aide to British Prime Minister David Cameron and a close confidant of media baron Rupert Murdoch with illegal eavesdropping on voice mail, authorities said Tuesday.

Cameron's former director of communications Andy Coulson is among eight journalists facing charges, as is Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of Murdoch's News International.

The names of the suspected hacking victims announced include some of the world's biggest celebrities, including Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Paul McCartney, soccer star Wayne Rooney and actor Jude Law.

Read more: Full CPS statement

The phone-hacking accusations have reverberated through the top levels of British politics and journalism, led to the closing of a major tabloid and prompted a parliamentary committee to issue damning criticism of Murdoch.

The charging announcement delivers one more public relations blow to Murdoch, who last week stepped down from a string of company boards of directors and further distanced himself from the print business that first brought him fame and fortune.

Coulson and Brooks are former editors of the defunct Murdoch tabloid the News of the World, which was shut down last year in the face of public outrage at the hacking scandal. That preceded News Corp.'s decision to withdraw a multi-billion-dollar bid to take over British Sky Broadcasting.

Likewise, Tuesday's developments add further potential embarrassment for Cameron, who hired Coulson to run his communications team in May 2010. Coulson quit the post in Cameron's office last year when police opened a new investigation into phone hacking.

It's the first time anyone has been charged with phone hacking in the 18-month investigation.

Brooks, who was charged with conspiracy to intercept voice mails of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, vigorously denied the charges, saying she was "distressed and angry."

"The charge concerning Milly Dowler is particularly upsetting, not only as it is untrue, but also because I have spent my journalistic career campaigning for victims of crime," she said in a statement released by her lawyers.

Coulson said he "wouldn't and, more importantly, that I didn't, do anything to damage the Milly Dowler investigation."

He said his tabloid "worked on behalf of the victims of crime, particularly violent crime, and the idea that I would then sit in my office dreaming up schemes to undermine investigations is simply untrue."

He said he was disappointed by the charges and would fight them in court.

Another of the suspects named Tuesday appeared to point the finger at others.

"I have always operated under the strict guidance and advice of News International's lawyers and under the instructions of the newspaper's editors which will be abundantly clear when this matter comes to court," one-time News of the World chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck said on his blog.

Cameron's office and News International declined to comment, as did McCartney and a number of other celebrities named as potential victims.

British law places tight restrictions on what can be reported about people facing criminal charges.

Former British Home Secretary David Blunkett was one of several suspected phone-hacking victims who cited fear of interfering with the prosecution when declining to comment on the charges.

Five other journalists were charged, the Crown Prosecution Service announced, while three will not be prosecuted. The CPS said it is still waiting to decide about two other cases.

The journalists facing charges include former top News of the World staff, including Thurlbeck, former managing editor Stuart Kuttner and editor Ian Edmondson.

Private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, who is suspected of carrying out the hacking, is also among the eight. They are next due to appear in a magistrates court on August 16, the Crown Prosecution Service said.

Prosecutors allege there were more than 600 victims of phone hacking between 2000 and 2006.

Read more: Familiar abuse of power as press fights regulation

Coulson resigned as editor after an earlier round of the phone-hacking scandal involving the paper's royal correspondent Clive Goodman and private investigator Mulcaire.

They were sent to prison for hacking into the voice mails of staffers working for Prince William and Prince Harry. Coulson said he knew nothing about the hacking but resigned because he was editor of the paper at the time.

Brooks went on to become chief executive of News International after her time at News of the World and is seen as personally close to Murdoch. She quit News International, the British newspaper publishing arm of News Corp., amid the scandal last summer.

Murdoch recently resigned from a number of positions within News Corp., his global media empire, as the company began moves to separate its entertainment and publishing arms following the scandal.

News Corp. shares trade in New York, where markets were closed when the CPS made its announcement.

British police have been investigating phone hacking by people working for Murdoch since January 2011 and have arrested dozens on suspicion of phone hacking, computer hacking and corruption.

Read more: Timeline of UK phone hacking scandal

The scandal exploded with the revelation that one of the hacking victims was Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old British girl whose phone was hacked after she disappeared in 2002. She was later found murdered.

The Met Police continues to investigate claims of phone hacking in their investigation, known as Operation Weeting.

A parallel police operation is investigating claims of inappropriate payments to police and public officials.

Cameron established a separate independent judge-led inquiry into media ethics, the Leveson Inquiry, after the news of the hacking of Dowler's voice messages.

Cameron and other senior current and former government figures have been called to testify before the inquiry, as have Murdoch and Brooks.

Dowler's parents told the inquiry in November how phone hacking on behalf of News of the World had given them false hope their missing daughter was still alive.

In fact, the messages had been accessed by a private investigator working for News of the World, Dowler's father, Bob, told the inquiry panel. The young girl had already been murdered.

Blog: Murdoch's UK legal woes coming to the U.S.?

CNN's Dan Rivers, Jonathan Wald and Laura Smith-Spark contributed to this report.

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