LONDON -- The phone hacking scandal entered a new and expanded criminal phase yes terday, with charges brought against two former members of Prime Minister David Cameron's inner circle over a campaign of illegal espionage that has rocked the country's establishment.
The Crown Prosecution Service announced that Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, former editors of Rupert Murdoch's now-shuttered Sunday tabloid, News of the World, were among eight people being charged with conspiring to intercept the communications of at least 600 people between 2000 and 2006. The alleged victims spanned a wide range, from a murdered teenager to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
Coulson and Brooks, previously charged in related cases, have denied wrongdoing and vowed to fight the charges.
The charges may further embarrass Cameron, who hired Coulson as his chief communications adviser, and once counted Brooks and her horse training husband Charlie in his circle of friends. The prime minister is Brooks' neighbor in the well-to-do Cotswolds town of Chipping Norton, and would swing by the News Corp. executive's house for Christmas parties, go horseback riding with her husband, and text her weekly.
The prospect of having Cameron's former associates in the dock during lengthy trials could prove an unwelcome sideshow as he battles to get the recession-scarred economy back on track.
Phone hacking first came to public attention in 2006, when private investigator Glenn Mulcaire and the News of the World's royal editor, Clive Goodman, were arrested on suspicion of hacking into the voice mails of members of the royal household. Coulson quit as editor after the two were convicted, but insisted he'd had no inkling of their wrongdoing.