Ex-Murdoch aides on trial over British phone-hacking scandal

LONDON (AFP) - The first trial in the phone-hacking scandal that sank Mr Rupert Murdoch's News of the World opened on Monday, with the tycoon's key aide Rebekah Brooks in the dock alongside the British Prime Minister's former media chief Andy Coulson.

The two former editors of the tabloid are among eight defendants facing a jury for the first time over the scandal that sent shockwaves through British politics. Flame-haired Brooks, 45, arrived at the Old Bailey court in London to a storm of photographers' flashes, accompanied by her racehorse trainer husband Charlie, who is also on trial.

The defendants face charges ranging from illegally hacking the mobile phone voicemails of a murdered schoolgirl and celebrities such as Paul McCartney, to bribing public officials for stories and hiding evidence. They all deny the allegations against them.

Brooks tapped out notes on an iPad as she sat alongside the other defendants in the glass-fronted dock, listening as Judge John Saunders heard initial legal arguments ahead of the selection of a jury. Some 80 potential jurors later crammed into the wood-panelled courtroom and were warned that the trial could last up to six months.

The 12-person jury is expected to hear explosive evidence about the scandal that forced Australian-born Mr Murdoch to shut down the News of the World in disgrace in 2011. Dubbed the "trial of the century" by one media commentator, proceedings opened on Monday but the prosecution's opening statement was not expected until at least Tuesday, when the jury is set to be sworn in.

The main players are Brooks, formerly chief executive of Mr Murdoch's British newspaper operations, News International, and Coulson, the savvy tabloid journalist who became Mr Cameron's director of communications.

Mr Murdoch tweeted about the trial last month: "Remember, everyone innocent until proven guilty, entitled to fair trial in most countries."

Brooks' 50-year-old husband, her personal assistant Cheryl Carter and former News International security chief Mark Hanna are accused of obstructing justice along with Brooks by hiding evidence in the chaotic last days of the News of the World.

Brooks - who rose from secretary to editor and became one of Mr Murdoch's closest confidantes - is charged with phone hacking, conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office and perverting the course of justice. Coulson is accused of hacking and paying officials for a Buckingham Palace phone directory containing contact details for senior royals.

Also on trial are former News of the World managing editor Stuart Kuttner and head of news Ian Edmondson - charged with phone hacking - and the paper's royal editor Clive Goodman, who is accused of bribing officials.