LONDON - British authorities on Tuesday charged an ex-aide to the British prime minister, a former protege of media mogul Rupert Murdoch and six others in the ever-widening phone hacking scandal, accusing them of key roles in a lengthy campaign of illegal espionage that victimized hundreds including top celebrities Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.
The announcement was a major development in a saga that has transfixed and at times horrified Britons and one that shows no signs of ending. A senior police official said earlier this week that her force was investigating more than 100 claims including computer hacking and illegal access to medical records stemming from the scandal.
The Crown Prosecution Service's Alison Levitt told journalists that Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, both former editors of Murdoch's now-shuttered News of the World tabloid, are among those being charged with conspiring to intercept the communications of more than 600 people between Oct. 3, 2000, and Aug. 9, 2006.
After his time at the tabloid, Coulson found work as British Prime Minister David Cameron's communications chief. Brooks became the chief executive of Murdoch's London-based News International and one of the country's most prominent news executives.
Levitt said that, with reference to the suspects, "there is sufficient evidence for there to be a realistic prospect of conviction in relation to one or more offenses." Coulson, Brooks, and Kuttner are accused of conspiring to break into the voice mail of 13-year-old Milly Dowler, a schoolgirl who disappeared in 2002. Milly was eventually found dead, and the revelation that the tabloid News of the World had hacked into her phone infuriated Britons when it came to light last year and pressured police to ramp up their investigation of illegal activity at the tabloids. The three suspects have denied wrongdoing.
Miskiw and Weatherup are accused of intercepting the messages of actor Jude Law, along with associates of his ex-wife Sadie Frost and former girlfriend Sienna Miller. Edmondson and Weatherup are accused of spying on former Beatle Paul McCartney, his ex-wife Heather Mills, and politicians including former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. Thurlbeck and Weatherup, meanwhile, are alleged to have eavesdropped on associates of Jolie and Pitt, one of Hollywood's most famous couples.
Brooks denied the accusations Tuesday, and said that she was "distressed and angry" at prosecutors' decision to charge her. She called the allegation that she conspired to spy on Milly "particularly upsetting." Also being charged is private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, whose extensive notes have been at the center of the scandal since it was first unearthed nearly five years ago.