LONDON — Britain's phone hacking scandal took a dramatic turn Tuesday with the filing of criminal charges against eight people, including a onetime confidant of media mogul Rupert Murdoch and a former senior aide to Prime Minister David Cameron.
Prosecutors said that Rebekah Brooks, who ran Murdoch's British newspapers, and Andy Coulson, who served as Cameron's communications adviser, were among those charged with illegally tapping into the cellphones of celebrities, politicians and other public figures while working at the now-shuttered News of the World tabloid.
Over a six-year period starting in the fall of 2000, Brooks, Coulson and five of the other suspects conspired to break into the phones of more than 600 people, prosecutor Alison Levitt said. On the list of victims: actors Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Jude Law, singer Paul McCartney, soccer player Wayne Rooney and at least one Cabinet minister.
The alleged hacking was part of the News of the World's relentless pursuit of sensational stories and extended as far as accessing the voicemail messages left on the phone of a 13-year-old kidnapping victim who was later found slain.
"Prosecution is required in the public interest," Levitt said, adding that enough evidence existed "for there to be a realistic prospect of conviction."
The announcement came a year after Britain was rocked by the revelation that the phone of Milly Dowler, the young kidnapping victim, had been hacked by a private investigator hired by the News of the World.
Amid the uproar that followed, Murdoch shut down the 168-year-old tabloid, issued a public apology and was hauled before Parliament for questioning. Top executives at News International, the British arm of his giant News Corp., resigned in disgrace, including Brooks.
Brooks maintained her innocence Tuesday, despite having been editor of the News of the World in 2002, at the time that the scandal sheet tapped into the teen's phone. "I did not authorize, nor was I aware of, phone hacking under my editorship," she said in a statement.
Besides Brooks and Coulson, five other former News of the World journalists were charged with conspiring to hack cellphones between October 2000 and August 2006. The eighth suspect, a private investigator hired by the paper, was not charged with respect to the entire six-year period but does stand accused of tapping into the phones of specific individuals during that time.