Ex-Cameron aide to be charged over royal data bribes

LONDON Tue Nov 20, 2012 8:34pm IST

Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson arrives for a hearing at the Old Bailey court in London September 26, 2012. REUTERS/Neil Hall/Files

Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson arrives for a hearing at the Old Bailey court in London September 26, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Neil Hall/Files

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LONDON (Reuters) - David Cameron's former media chief Andy Coulson will be charged with conspiring to pay officials for private information on the royal family during his time as a tabloid editor, prosecutors said on Tuesday.

The prosecutor's decision is a blow to the reputation of the British prime minister who has been forced to defend his hiring of Coulson since a phone-hacking scandal exploded last year at the Rupert Murdoch-owned News of the World tabloid.

Critics say that Eton-educated 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.

Since resigning 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.

Another Cameron friend, the former boss of Murdoch's British newspaper business, Rebekah Brooks, was also told on Tuesday that she would be charged with conspiring to authorise payments of around 100,000 pounds to a member of the Ministry of Defence to generate stories.

Police said later in the day that Brooks, described as 44-years-old and unemployed, had a ttended a south London police station and been charged. She will appear at Westminster Magistrates Court on November 29.

Her lawyers were not immediately available to comment but she has previously denied any wrongdoing.

"Following charge, these individuals will appear before Westminster Magistrates' Court," said public prosecutor Alison Levitt.

FALL FROM GRACE

Brooks, a former Sun and News of the World editor, has already been charged with conspiring to hack into phones and with attempts to pervert the course of justice.

Instantly recognisable for her long, curly red hair, Brooks had previously been courted by prime ministers from Tony Blair to Cameron.

The string of charges have marked the fall from grace for two of Britain's most connected media executives, and have embarrassed both Cameron and their boss Murdoch.

"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 new charges stem from a wider investigation into the British press that was sparked 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 daily Sun newspaper. 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," Prosecutor 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 staff from The Sun, the police and a member of the armed forces. (Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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