British prosecutors say they have the evidence to prove there was a criminal conspiracy at Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World newspaper involving former senior executives, including Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, to hack the phones of more than 600 people including the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
Announcing the charging of eight people over the phone-hacking scandal on Tuesday, prosecutors alleged the tabloid’s targets ranged from a victim of the 7 July 2005 terrorist attacks to celebrities and senior Labour politicians.
Coulson left the editorship of the News of the World in 2007 after a journalist and private investigator were convicted of phone hacking, and would go on to be appointed as director of communications for the Conservative party. After the 2010 election Coulson worked in Downing Street for David Cameron, who said he deserved a “second chance”, as one of the prime minister’s most senior advisers, before Coulson resigned as renewed controversy over phone hacking grew.
Prosecutors say other victims of hacking include former senior Labour cabinet ministers such as the former deputy prime minister John Prescott, two former home secretaries, David Blunkett and Charles Clarke, and the former culture secretary Tessa Jowell.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said it would charge Coulson and the former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks in relation to the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone. The allegations about the hacking of the murdered schoolgirl’s phone led Murdoch to decide to shut down the News of the World in 2011.
Also charged over phone hacking are Stuart Kuttner, former managing editor of the News of the World, Ian Edmondson, former news editor, Greg Miskiw, another former news editor, Neville Thurlbeck, former chief reporter, James Weatherup, former assistant news editor, and the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.
Alison Levitt QC, principal legal adviser to the director of public prosecutions, announced the decision on Tuesday.
She said the charges related to allegations of phone hacking from 3 October 2000 to August 2006. The CPS alleges that more than 600 people were victims.
Levitt said: “All, with the exception of Glenn Mulcaire, will be charged with conspiring to intercept communications without lawful authority, from 3 October 2000 to 9 August 2006. The communications in question are the voicemail messages of well-known people and/or those associated with them. There is a schedule containing the names of over 600 people who the prosecution will say are the victims of this offence.”
The CPS said victims included Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, the celebrity chef Delia Smith, the actors Jude Law, Sadie Frost, Sienna Miller, Wayne Rooney, Sir Paul McCartney and his former wife Heather Mills, Sven-Goran Eriksson, the former England manager, and the former trade union leader Andrew Gilchrist. Another alleged victim is Prof John Tulloch, who was left bloody and burnt after the worst ever terrorist attacks on the UK mainland in July 2005, targeting London’s transport system.
Levitt said police would contact those who the CPS says were victims, and then publish their names.
Brooks faces two additional charges over conspiracy to hack Gilchrist’s voicemails. She is also accused over the Dowler voicemails, along with Coulson, Kuttner, Miskiw, Thurlbeck and Mulcaire.
Coulson also faces additional charges relating to Blunkett and Clarke’s voicemails, as well as those of Calum Best.
Miskiw faces nine further charges, the CPS said. Edmondson faces a further 11 charges, Thurlbeck seven, and Weatherup seven.
Mulcaire is charged over the voicemails of four people: Milly Dowler, Gilchrist, Smith and Clarke.
To bring charges, the CPS must be satisfied that prosecution is in the public interest, and that there is a realistic prospect of a jury being convinced of the evidence beyond all reasonable doubt.
Levitt said she had also considered CPS interim guidelines on the prosecution of journalists, which says that if stories being pursued are in the public interest, that is a factor against charging.
Brooks, a friend of the prime minister to such an extent that they texted each other, issued a statement denying all the charges against her. She is a former editor of the News of the World, and of the Sun, after which she was selected to run Murdoch’s UK publishing interests. She said: “I am not guilty of these charges. I did not authorise, nor was I aware of, phone hacking under my editorship. I am distressed and angry that the CPS have reached this decision when they knew all the facts and were in a position to stop the case at this stage. The charge concerning Milly Dowler is particularly upsetting, not only as it is untrue but also because I have spent my journalistic career campaigning for victims of crime. I will vigorously defend these allegations.”
Coulson said he never had done anything to harm the Milly Dowler investigation and would “fight these allegations”. “The idea I would sit in my office dreaming up schemes that would undermine investigations is simply untrue,” he said.
Thurlbeck also denied the charges. “I will vigorously fight to clear my reputation,” he said.
The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, said: “Everybody was very shocked at the revelations of the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone. We said at the time we needed to get to the bottom of what had happened. It is now right that justice takes its course. This is now a matter for the courts.”
In the years following the 2007 conviction of one of its journalists for phone hacking the royal household, News International insisted the practice was limited to one rogue reporter.
The charging decisions follow a Scotland Yard investigation that began last year, after police had repeatedly said for over a year that there was no need to reopen the investigation.
In July 2009, the Guardian began running a series of articles that claimed phone hacking was more widespread than previously admitted.
On Monday, police said they believed there were 4,775 potential victims of phone hacking, of whom 2,615 had been notified. The Metropolitan police deputy assistant commissioner Sue Akers told the Leveson inquiry her force had notified more than 702 people who were “likely” to have been victims.
The CPS has received files from the Met’s Operation Weeting team covering 13 individuals, including 11 journalists from the News of the World and Mulcaire.
The CPS said three of the 13 would not face charges, and added they had not made a decision on two people at the request of the police, who want to make further inquiries.
The previous phone-hacking investigation has been criticised as being insufficiently thorough.
The Met says it launched Operation Weeting after receiving “significant new information” from News International on 26 January last year. A total of 24 people including 15 current and former journalists have been arrested as part of the operation.
Police have also detained 41 people under Operation Elveden, an investigation into alleged corrupt payments made to police officers and other public officials.
Seven people have been arrested as part of Operation Tuleta, investigating the scale of computer hacking and other breaches of privacy.
The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) is a complex piece of legislation and there has been doubt in legal circles about when exactly an offence of phone hacking may be said to have been committed. Prosecutors looking at the evidence gathered by the new police phone-hacking investigation have been working on the basis of a “broad interpretation” of Ripa, the director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, told the Guardian earlier this month.
This would mean it was not absolutely necessary – for the purposes of bringing a criminal prosecution – for a voicemail message to have been unheard by its intended recipient before it was allegedly hacked into.
Coulson has already been charged in Scotland over alleged perjury, while Brooks has already been charged in England with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.