LONDON // Nine women and three men were sworn in as a jury yesterday to hear Britain’s tabloid phone hacking trial – and warned by the judge to ignore a morass of “inaccurate and misleading” reports about the high-profile case.
Two former senior executives in Rupert Murdoch’s media empire – former News of the World editors Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson – and six others face charges stemming from the revelation that employees at the Murdoch-owned tabloid eavesdropped on the phone voicemails of celebrities, politicians, crime victims and others in their search for scoops. They all deny the charges.
The scandal led Mr Murdoch to shut the 168-year-old newspaper and continues to shake Britain’s media, police and political establishments.
Judge John Saunders told the jury at London’s Central Criminal Court that the case had received “an unprecedented amount” of publicity that they must ignore in order to try the defendants on the evidence alone.
“Not only the defendants are on trial; British justice is on trial,” he said.
Mr Saunders said much commentary on the case in the UK had been “inaccurate and misleading” as well as “offensive and demeaning to some of the defendants”.
“It is essential that you put all that material ... out of your mind,” he said.
The judge also told the jury to ignore the storm of chatter about the case, from tweets from opinionated celebrities to the satirical magazine Private Eye, which emblazoned a picture of the flame-haired Ms Brooks on the cover of its latest “Halloween special” issue.
“It is meant to be satire,” he told the jury. “You ignore it.
“It is the verdict of you 12, and only you 12, that we want at the end of this trial,” he said.
The eight defendants were told to stand in the dock as the seven-count indictment was read against them. Prosecution lawyer Andrew Edis is due to begin his case today, outlining in detail the allegations of criminal activity by the former media high-flyers.
The case – expected to last up to six months – is the first major criminal trial spawned by the 2011 revelation that the News of the World had hacked the mobile phone voicemails of kidnapped 13-year-old Milly Dowler, who was later found murdered.
Ms Brooks, 45, edited both the News of the World and its sister paper, The Sun, and was chief executive of Mr Murdoch’s British newspaper division. Mr Coulson, 45, also edited the News of the World before becoming communications chief to Prime Minister David Cameron.
Both face charges of conspiring to intercept communications – phone hacking – and conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office, which refers to illegal payments to officials.
Former News of the World managing editor Stuart Kuttner and former news editor Ian Edmondson also are charged with phone hacking – in conjunction with Ms Brooks, Mr Coulson and others – over a period stretching from 2000 to 2006.
The paper’s former royal editor, Clive Goodman, is charged with conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office alongside Mr Coulson.
Brooks, her husband Charles Brooks, her former assistant Cheryl Carter and former News International security chief Mark Hanna are charged with attempting to obstruct the phone hacking investigation by withholding documents, computers and other equipment from police.
The phone-hacking scandal spurred a media-ethics inquiry led by a judge and wide-ranging criminal investigations into hacking, bribery and other illegal behaviour.
Dozens of journalists and officials have been arrested, and Britain’s free-wheeling press is under intense political pressure to submit to tougher regulation.