Remember way back in the summer of 2011, when allegations began to surface that reporters for the British newspaper News of the World had been hacking into subjects' voicemail? It was a pretty big deal: media mogul owner Rupert Murdoch shut down the century-old paper almost immediately, and was called to testify before Parliament (and narrowly avoided a pie). It seems so long ago.
Now, two years later, a trial has begun for two of the top executives at the center of the case, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, among others, in what is being deemed the "trial of the century" by The Telegraph:
While the Leveson Inquiry generated dramatic headlines, all the most important areas of criminal investigation were out of bounds. The defendants are facing a variety of charges. Mrs Brooks denies conspiracy to intercept voicemail messages, involvement in conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office, and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice (Charlie Brooks, a sports columnist for the Telegraph, is also accused of this offence, for which the maximum penalty is life imprisonment).
According to prosecutors, based on the testimony of employees who already confessed to taking part in the invasive activity, News of the World had a widespread culture of phone hacking that was not relegated to simply a handful of rogue operators. Among the details introduced by the prosecution, Coulson "approved payments to policemen for secret phonebooks which contained telephone numbers belonging to members of the Royal Family," and investigators uncovered 15 such books from the paper's Royals Editor.
The trial is also likely to embarrass Prime Minister David Cameron, as The Daily Beast explains:
He has admitted riding Brooks’ horse and attending regular social gatherings with the former editor of the Sun newspaper and CEO of Murdoch’s dominant Fleet Street subsidiary, News International. Cameron also employed Andy Coulson, a former editor of the News of the World, as his director of communications.
In the wake of the phone hacking scandal, the British government and press have been at odds about how regulated the press should be. At the start of the trial, prosecutor Andrew Edis said to the court, "The prosecution accept it is important in a free country that there is a free Press but journalists are no more entitled to break the criminal law than anybody else. The criminal law applies to all of us equally. This is not an inquiry into whether newspapers are a good thing or a bad thing. We accept they are a good thing."