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Reports: Three former Murdoch tabloid journalists plead guilty to phone hacking

By Peter Wilkinson, CNN
updated 4:29 AM EDT, Thu October 31, 2013
Neville Thurlbeck (file photo) is reportedly one of three former News of the World journalists to plead guilty to phone hacking.
Neville Thurlbeck (file photo) is reportedly one of three former News of the World journalists to plead guilty to phone hacking.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Three News of the World journalists plead guilty to phone hacking in trial in London
  • Neville Thurlbeck, James Weatherup and Greg Miskiw plead guilty, report British media
  • Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson are accused of conspiring to hack voice mails
  • They both formerly edited the now-defunct News of the World newspaper

London (CNN) -- Three former journalists at Rupert Murdoch's defunct British tabloid News of the World have pleaded guilty to phone hacking, British media reported Wednesday, citing the prosecution in the case.

The three who pleaded guilty are Neville Thurlbeck, James Weatherup and Greg Miskiw.

They were among a group of people who went on trial this week in the much-anticipated case.

The highest profile defendants are Rebekah Brooks, a protégé of global media baron Murdoch, and Andy Coulson, a former spin doctor for British Prime Minister David Cameron -- both former editors of News of the World.

It is not clear how the guilty pleas from the three journalists will affect the cases against their former bosses.

The phone-hacking accusations have reverberated through the top levels of British politics and journalism and prompted a parliamentary committee to issue damning criticism of Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp. owned News of the World through its UK subsidiary, News International.

Phone hacking scandal: Fast facts

After the scandal, Murdoch stepped down from a string of company directorships and abandoned a multibillion-dollar bid to acquire satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

Suspected hacking victims include some of the world's biggest celebrities, including Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Jude Law, Paul McCartney and soccer star Wayne Rooney, as well as victims of crime and the July 7, 2005, London terrorist attacks.

Brooks and Coulson were close to British Prime Minister David Cameron. Coulson, who edited the News of the World from 2003 to 2007, went on to become Cameron's director of communications before resigning early in 2011. Brooks was a friend of the prime minister and his wife.

Brooks, formerly chief executive of News of the World's parent company, News International, part of Murdoch's News Corp. empire, also faces a charge of perverting the course of justice.

But the most explosive charge against her is plotting in 2002 to eavesdrop illegally on the voice mail of missing British schoolgirl Milly Dowler, who was later found murdered.

Public anger after the revelation in 2011 that the missing girl's phone had been hacked forced Murdoch to close News of the World, which Brooks edited at the time of the hacking. She then became editor of The Sun newspaper before taking up the chief executive role.

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Brooks, Coulson and fellow former News of the World employees Stuart Kuttner, Greg Miskiw, Ian Edmondson, Neville Thurlbeck and James Weatherup are accused of conspiring between October 3, 2000, and August 9, 2006, "to intercept communications in the course of their transmission, without lawful authority."

Specifically, the charge asserts that they listened to "voice mail messages of well-known people."

Brooks, Coulson, Kuttner, Miskiw, Thurlbeck and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire face an additional charge of intercepting Dowler's messages.

Brooks, her husband Charlie Brooks and a former personal assistant also face a separate set of charges of conspiring to obstruct the police investigation into phone hacking. They were charged in May 2012, along with Brooks' former driver, a security guard and members of News International security staff, with attempting to pervert the course of justice.

The hacking scandal prompted Cameron to set up an independent inquiry, led by Lord Justice Leveson, to make recommendations on journalistic ethics and examine the relationship of the press with the public, police and politicians.

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CNN's Richard Allen Greene and Lindsay Isaac contributed to this report.

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