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Former Murdoch Editors Face Criminal Charges In U.K. Phone Hacking Scandal

Two former top editors at News Corp.'s now defunct News of the World tabloid in the U.K., including a man who later became a spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron, now face criminal charges related to the so-called hacking scandal.

The BBC writes that "eight people, including Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, will face a total of 19 charges relating to phone hacking, the Crown Prosecution Service" announced today. Coulson, after leaving Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., worked for Cameron.

According to The Guardian, Brooks, Coulson, "five other former News of the World journalists ... [and] private investigator Glenn Mulcaire" are being charged. Brooks, the Guardian adds, has issued a statement saying:

"I am not guilty of these charges. I did not authorise, nor was I aware of, phone hacking under my editorship."

The BBC reports that:

-- "Brooks, who is also a former News International chief executive, faces three charges relating to the alleged accessing the voicemails of Milly Dowler and former trade union boss Andrew Gilchrist."

-- "Coulson, the prime minister's former communications chief, will face four charges linked to accusations of accessing the phone messages of Milly Dowler, [politician] David Blunkett, [politician] Charles Clarke and [late soccer star] George Best's son Calum Best."

All told, says NPR's David Folkenflik, British prosecutors are alleging there was a conspiracy going to the newspaper's top levels that led to the hacking of cellphone voicemails of more than 600 people over a six-year period. Both Brooks and Coulson were News of the World's top editor at points during those six years.

Milly Dowler is a 13-year-old British girl who went missing in 2002. During the search for Milly, private investigator Mulcaire — who was being paid by News of the World — accessed her cellphone's voicemails. To make room for more messages, he deleted some. That gave Milly's parents hope that she might still be living and may have affected the investigation into her disappearance. She wasn't alive. Milly had been murdered.

The revelation of that hacking caused an uproar in the U.K., which in turn led to investigations into the News Corp.' tabloids actions and more revelations. News of the World was eventually folded. Murdoch's newspaper holdings in the U.K. have been rocked.

NPR's Philip Reeves adds from London that the charges against Coulson are an embarrassment for both Cameron and Murdoch. Correspondent Larry Miller tells out Newscast Desk that others who were alleged targets of the tabloid's hacking included former Beatle Paul McCartney.

Update at 9:35 a.m. ET. Coulson Comments.

The BBC's Norman Smith tweets that:

-- "Andy Coulson in statement outside his house says : 'At News of the World we worked on behalf of victims of crime' "

-- "Andy Coulson: 'The idea i wd sit in my office dreaming up schemes to undermine (police) investigations is simply untrue' "

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.