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'News Of The World' Phone Hacking Trial Gets Started In London


In England today, one of the highest profile criminal trials the country has seen in years got underway. Eight people are on trial, most notably Rebecca Brooks, a former top executive for Rupert Murdoch's UK newspaper empire, and Andy Coulson, former News of the World editor. Coulson also served for a while as Prime Minister David Cameron's communications chief.

The case grew out of a scandal over allegations that staff at the News of the World hacked into thousands of voicemails, including celebrities, politicians and crime victims.

I spoke with NPR's Phillip Reeves earlier today about the trial. He said today's proceedings were mostly about jury selection.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: The court started out with a pool of about 80 potential jurors. And after dismissing those who couldn't serve, that number was whittled down to about 30. That 30 were given a questionnaire and send home with instructions from the judge to fill this form out and return tomorrow morning. The questionnaire will be used to help reduce the number of jurors to 12.

The judge told them not to discuss the case with anyone, to stay away from Google and Twitter. And he said that this is the sort of case that many people have views on. They were told, by the way, that the case could last up to six months.

CORNISH: And remind us of the back story here, what Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson are accused of.

REEVES: Well, they are accused of conspiring to hack telephone voicemails and, to use legal parlance, conspiring to commit misconduct in public office. That second charge is basically about allegations of paying public officials for information. Brooks is also accused of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

But this case is really about the fundamental culture and conduct of Britain's tabloid newspapers, and the culture and conduct of executives within Rupert Murdoch's operations in Britain. There's added intrigue because Brooks and Coulson were at the heart of political power in the U.K. Brooks socialized with Prime Minister David Cameron. And Coulson had a key job at Number 10 Downing Street.

CORNISH: So what's expected to happen next?

REEVES: Well, jury selection will continue tomorrow. It's not certain - nothing ever is especially in legal cases. But people are generally speculating that this will be completed tomorrow. And then the prosecution will begin with its opening statement and that, of course, will attract a great deal of interest because that statement will likely contain an outline of the allegations leveled against the eight defendants in this case.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Philip Reeves in London. Philip, thank you.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.