LONDON (Reuters) - The jury trying the editors of one of Rupert Murdoch’s former newspapers over phone hacking were told on Tuesday that British justice itself would be on trial.
Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, former editors of Murdoch’s now defunct News of the World tabloid, are accused of conspiring to illegally access voicemail messages on mobile phones belonging to politicians, celebrities, and victims of crime to obtain exclusive news.
The scandal sent shockwaves through the British establishment and shook Murdoch’s News Corp empire, revealing the close ties between press barons, police chiefs and senior politicians.
Both Brooks and Coulson have close links to Prime Minister David Cameron. Coulson used to be Cameron’s media adviser, while Brooks is a family friend.
The two, who face trial with six others, deny all charges.
After nine women and three men were sworn in as jurors, Justice John Saunders, the judge overseeing the trial, told them they had to ignore the huge publicity surrounding the allegations to ensure they received a fair hearing.
“In a way, not only are the defendants on trial but British justice is on trial,” he said.
“Therefore it’s extremely important that you follow the directions that I give you. They could not be more important that they are in this particular case.”
Saunders said there had probably been an unprecedented amount of material published about the phone-hacking allegations as he delivered strict guidelines for the jury to follow, such as ignoring comments on social media about the trial.
A failure to do so could leave them in contempt of court and they could face prison themselves, he warned.
Brooks and Coulson stood next to each other as the charges against them were read out at London’s Old Bailey court.
They are charged with conspiracy to illegally intercept communications and Brooks is also accused of two counts of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office, and two counts of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by hampering the police inquiry.
Coulson is additionally charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.
Joining them in the dock are Stuart Kuttner, the long-time former managing editor of the News of the World; Ian Edmondson, the tabloid’s ex-news editor; Clive Goodman, the paper’s former royal editor’ Cheryl Carter, Brooks’s personal assistant; Brooks’s racehorse trainer husband Charlie; and Mark Hanna, News International’s head of security.
They all deny similar charges to those against Brooks and Coulson. The prosecution is due to outline its case against them on Wednesday afternoon and the trial is expected to last six months.
Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Alison Williams