Rebekah Brooks, former chief executive of News International, in London, June 13, 2012. / AP
(CBS/AP) LONDON - Former Rupert Murdoch protege Rebekah Brooks has been formally charged with conspiring to hack into the phones of hundreds of well-known people and their associates, a move first announced last month by Britain's Crown Prosecution Service.
The development had been expected since July 24, when prosecutors named Brooks as one of eight people accused of participating in a campaign of espionage which targeted more than 600 celebrities, sports stars, politicians and crime victims.
In Britain, police formally charge suspects. In Brooks' case, that happened late Thursday at a London police station.
Brooks, who quit as chief executive of Murdoch's News International when the phone hacking scandal exploded last year, has vowed to fight the charges.
Police listed the 44-year-old's current occupation as "unemployed."
Officials in Britain had previously announced intentions to charge a host of former editors and journalists linked to Murdoch's now-shuttered News of the World tabloid for conspiring to intercept the communications of people between Oct. 3, 2000, and Aug. 9, 2006.
Others being charged include former editor Andy Coulson, as well as senior tabloid journalists Stuart Kuttner, Greg Miskiw, Neville Thurlbeck, James Weatherup and Ian Edmondson. Private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, whose extensive notes have been at the center of the scandal, is also being prosecuted.
The charges are another potential embarrassment for Prime Minister David Cameron, who had hired Coulson as his chief communications adviser and once counted Brooks and her race horse riding husband Charlie in his circle of friends. The prime minister's judgment has come under scrutiny as the scandal has spread as have his and other politicians' links to News Corp., Murdoch's formidable media empire.
Phone hacking first came to public attention in 2006, when police arrested Mulcaire and the News of the World's then-royal editor Clive Goodman on suspicion of hacking into the voicemail messages belonging to members of Britain's royal household. Coulson resigned from his post as editor after the pair was convicted the following year, but always insisted he was kept in the dark about their wrongdoing.
For the next five years, News Corp. subsidiary News International would insist that the illegal activity was an aberration the work of single rogue reporter. But a growing stream of lawsuits and enterprising reporting by the Guardian and The New York Times eventually exposed a far more complex situation. Under pressure, police reopened their phone hacking investigation and revisited Mulcaire's voluminous notes.
News International began to change its tune. Stony denials turned into apologies sweetened with big settlements. And detectives swooped in on Thurlbeck and Edmonson, the paper's chief reporter and its news editor, respectively.
When the Guardian revealed that the News of the World had hacked into the voicemail of 13-year-old Milly Dowler, a school girl whose 2002 disappearance and murder transfixed the country, the scandal really exploded. Britons who might've shrugged off celebrity intrusion were horrified by the news that reporters had violated the privacy of a dead girl to hunt for scoops about her whereabouts.
The ensuing furor ran like an earthquake through the British establishment.