Facing charges: Rebekah Brooks (left) and Andy Coulson. Photo: Reuters
Prime Minister David Cameron's former media chief Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, the former boss of Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper business, will face charges over conspiring to pay officials for private information on the royal family, prosecutors said.
The charges against Coulson relate to his time as editor of the Murdoch-owned News of the World tabloid.
Brooks and Coulson conspired with two News Corp reporters to pay public officials for stories as early as 2002, the Crown Prosecution Service said.
The former executives were charged after prosecutors said in a formal decision that Brooks and Coulson should face claims they conspired to commit misconduct in public office. The two reporters and the defense employee involved in the case should also be charged, the CPS said.
The charges stem from a police probe into News Corp’s best-selling Sun daily tabloid and the News of the World, which Chairman Rupert Murdoch closed last year to help quell public anger over a related phone-hacking scandal. The affairs have cost New York-based News Corp at least $315 million in civil settlements with victims, legal fees and other costs.
Brooks and Coulson, both 44 years old, will appear at a court hearing scheduled for November 29, police said. They were already due to stand trial in London for parallel phone-hacking offenses in September, along with a dozen other people. Prosecutors haven’t said if hearings on the new bribery claims may overlap or if the cases will be combined for some defendants.
Embarrassment for PM
The prosecutor's decision is a blow to the reputation of Cameron, who has been forced to defend his hiring of Coulson since a phone-hacking scandal exploded last year at the now-closed News of the World.
Critics say that Cameron - who meets Queen Elizabeth once a week - ignored warnings about Coulson's reputation to appoint him to shape his media strategy to connect better with ordinary voters.
The charge against Brooks, whose intimate texts and emails to Cameron were laid bare at a public inquiry into press standards, compounds the embarrassment for him.
Asked if hiring Coulson and being so close to Brooks reflected badly on his judgement, Cameron said: "I have made it clear (my) regret on many occasions on this issue.
"I have also said very clearly that we should allow the police and prosecuting authorities to follow the evidence wherever it leads, I think that is very important," he told reporters during a visit to Northern Ireland.
Since resigning from his Downing Street post in 2011, Coulson has been charged with conspiracy to hack into phone messages and perjury, possible first steps to what would be politically charged court cases.
He said in a statement he would fight the latest charges in court.
Brooks, 44, was charged with conspiring to authorise payments of around 100,000 pounds ($153,000) to a member of the Ministry of Defence to generate stories and will appear at Westminster Magistrates Court on Nov. 29.
Her lawyers were not immediately available to comment but she has previously denied any wrongdoing.
Fall from grace
Like Coulson, Brooks, a former editor of the News of the World and the daily Sun tabloid, has already been charged with conspiring to hack into phones and with attempts to pervert the course of justice. She had been courted by prime ministers from Tony Blair to Cameron as the boss of hugely popular and influential newspapers.
"This is a man (Cameron) with a red face over Coulson that is now turning from crimson to scarlet," Roy Greenslade, author of several books on the British press and a former senior editor at the Sun, told Reuters.
The string of accusations have marked the fall from grace for two of Britain's most connected media executives, and have damaged not only Cameron but their former boss Murdoch.
The new charges stem from a wider investigation into the British press initiated by revelations that journalists at the News of the World had hacked into phone messages on an industrial scale.
Facing a public backlash, Murdoch closed the mass-selling Sunday title last year and formed an internal committee to cooperate with the police.
In a worrying development for the rest of Murdoch's British business, prosecutors also charged, for the first time, an employee of the Sun. John Kay, the paper's chief reporter from 1990 to 2011, declined to comment.
Prosecutors said they would also charge the former Royal correspondent of the News of the World, Clive Goodman, for conspiring to pay public officials for the so-called "Green Book" of Royal contact details.
"We have concluded, following a careful review of the evidence, that Clive Goodman and Andy Coulson should be charged with two conspiracies," senior prosecutor Alison Levitt said.
A spokesman for the Royal Family and a spokeswoman for Murdoch's British newspaper arm, News International, declined to comment.
Police have arrested 52 people in connection with making payments to public officials, including numerous staff from The Sun, the police and a member of the armed forces.
Reuters with Bloomberg