British phone-hacking trial nears conclusion

LONDON (REUTERS) - The jury in the seven-month trial of two ex-Rupert Murdoch editors, one the media mogul's head of British newspapers and the other a close aide to the prime minister, is expected to retire to consider its verdict this week.

Judge John Saunders is likely to finish his summing up of the high-profile case on either Monday or Tuesday, leaving the eight women and three men of the jury to decide the fates of Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and five others.

The two were both editors of Murdoch's brash News of the World Sunday tabloid which was shut three years ago as the hacking scandal engulfed his company.

Three former senior news editors from the paper have pleaded guilty to phone-hacking, and the jury at London's historic Old Bailey court will have to decide whether Brooks and Coulson were complicit in the activity.

The case has been one of the country's most high profile in years.

Saunders told the jury at the start of the process the matter of British justice itself was on trial, due to the close relationships that existed between the media elite and members of government and the police.

Brooks and Coulson are on trial for conspiring to hack into voicemails to generate exclusive news and for paying public officials.

Brooks, once one of the most influential women in Britain, faces a separate charge of conspiring to pervert the course of justice with her husband and staff.

The issue of voicemail interception at the 168-year-old Murdoch paper first broke into the public conscience in 2007 when its royal editor Clive Goodman and a private detective went to jail for tapping into the messages of aides to the British royal family.

News International, the British newspaper arm of Murdoch's media empire, insisted the practice was limited to a single"rogue reporter".

But due to the severity of the matter, Coulson quit as editor although he said he had not known about the crime at the time.

FACING JAIL He went on to become the communications director for David Cameron, first in opposition and then in Downing Street when Cameron became prime minister. He was forced to stand down in January 2011 as the scandal intensified.

Brooks, who edited the News of the World from 2000 to 2003, also edited its daily sister paper the Sun before she was promoted to run News International in 2009. She too left the company in 2011 and was arrested shortly afterwards.

Brooks' husband Charlie, a friend of the prime minister, her personal assistant and head of security are also on trial for trying to hinder the police investigation, while Stuart Kuttner, the paper's ex-managing editor, is on trial for conspiring to hack into phones.

Goodman, the former royal editor, is on trial for authorising illegal payments to the police.

All seven defendants deny the charges. If found guilty Brooks and Coulson are likely to face jail.

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