LONDON (Reuters) - Two former editors of Rupert Murdoch-owned newspapers who had close ties to British Prime Minister David Cameron will face trial late next year at the earliest on charges related to alleged phone-hacking, a court heard on Wednesday.
Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson were among 13 suspects who appeared in court, accused either of conspiring to intercept the voicemail messages of more than 600 people or hindering the police investigation into those claims.
The hearing - at London’s Central Criminal Court, known as the Old Bailey - only dealt with administrative matters, not the substance of the allegations. All 13 suspects heard the proposed date for their trial had been set for September 9, 2013.
The hacking scandal has damaged the reputation of Murdoch’s global media operations, raised questions about Cameron’s judgment and exposed the close relations between British politicians, police and journalists.
Brooks and Coulson were both once editors of the News of the World, a Sunday tabloid that Murdoch abruptly shut down in July 2011 because of allegations that some of its journalists had hacked the phones of celebrities, politicians and crime victims.
By that time, Brooks had been promoted to chief executive of News International, Murdoch’s British newspaper business, and was a confidante to the media mogul and a close friend to successive British prime ministers including Cameron.
After leaving the News of the World, Coulson was hired by Cameron, then in opposition, to be his communications chief. Cameron took Coulson into government with him but Coulson later resigned.
None of the accused in the hacking case has yet entered a plea though Brooks and Coulson have indicated they will deny the accusations.
The dock at the Old Bailey’s wood-panelled Court One, where some of Britain’s most notorious criminals have gone on trial, was so full that several of the suspects had to sit on adjacent benches.
Eighteen lawyers in wigs and black gowns, including some of the country’s top defence counsel, looked on. Brooks, instantly recognisable with her mane of long red curls was wearing a beige jacket and spoke only to confirm her presence, as did the other suspects.
Joining Coulson and Brooks in the dock were some of the most senior former staff from the News of the World who have been charged with conspiracy to intercept voicemails.
Brooks is also charged, with six others, including her husband Charlie, with conspiring to hinder police investigating the alleged phone-hacking by concealing material from them. Charlie Brooks, a wealthy racehorse trainer, is an old friend of Cameron’s who went to the same exclusive private school.
Tight restrictions were imposed on the reporting of the hearing which decided on a timetable for evidence to be disclosed. The court was told that the next hearing for the cases would be on December 12 and 13.
Reporting by Michael Holden and Peter Griffiths; Editing by Andrew Osborn