UK PM ex-aide to be charged over cash for royal tip-offs

Tue Nov 20, 2012 2:37pm EST
 
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By Kate Holton and Natalie Huet

LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron's former media chief Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, the former boss of Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper business, were charged on Tuesday with conspiring to make illegal payments to officials for information for stories.

The charges against the pair, who were both close to Cameron, relate to their former roles as editors of the Murdoch-owned News of the World Sunday tabloid and its sister daily paper the Sun.

Prosecutors accuse Coulson of conspiring to obtain private information about Britain's royal family, while Brooks was charged over payments of 100,000 pounds ($160,100) to a civil servant from the Ministry of Defence to garner details for news stories.

The decision to charge them is a blow to the reputation of Cameron, who has been forced to defend his hiring of Coulson since a phone-hacking scandal exploded last year at the now-closed News of the World.

Critics say 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.

The charge against Brooks, whose friendly texts and emails to Cameron were laid bare at a public inquiry into press standards, compounds the embarrassment for him.

Asked if hiring Coulson and being so close to Brooks reflected badly on his judgment, Cameron said: "I have made it clear (my) regret on many occasions on this issue.

"I have also said very clearly that we should allow the police and prosecuting authorities to follow the evidence wherever it leads, I think that is very important," he told reporters during a visit to Northern Ireland.   Continued...

 
Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson is seen arriving to hear charges of phone hacking at Westminster Magistrates Court in London August 16, 2012. REUTERS/Neil Hall/Files