Hacking Brooks Court

LONDON (CNN) -- Rebekah Brooks, a former top executive of media baron Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper group, appeared briefly in court Wednesday, charged with obstructing a police investigation into phone hacking and bribery.

She spoke only to confirm her address during the eight-minute hearing and was ordered to appear in Southwark Crown Court on June 22.

Her husband, Charles, and four current or former News International employees also face charges and appeared with her, becoming the first defendants to appear in court in connection with the wide-ranging police investigation sparked by allegations of illegal eavesdropping.

The defendants, who include Brooks' former personal assistant, driver and bodyguard, were ordered not to communicate with each other directly, except for Brooks and her husband.

Cheryl Carter, the personal assistant, was also instructed to surrender her passport.

The six were charged last month with perverting the course of justice.

They are accused of plotting to remove seven boxes of documents from News International offices and hide computers and documents from police.

When she was charged in May, Brooks blasted British prosecutors, calling the case "an expensive sideshow."

Brooks said she is "baffled" and angered by the decision to charge "those closest to me."

"One day, the details of this case will emerge, and people will see today as nothing more than an expensive sideshow -- a waste of public money as a result of an unjust and weak decision," she told reporters outside her lawyer's office.

Charles Brooks said that his wife is the victim of a "witch hunt" and that the charges against him and others are "an attempt to use me and others as scapegoats, the effect of which is to ratchet up the pressure on my wife."

"I am confident that the lack of evidence against me will be borne out in court," he said. "But I have grave doubts that my wife will ever get a fair trial, given the volume of biased commentary which she has been subject to."

Her driver and personal assistant also face charges, as do one of her security guards and the head of security for News International, the News Corp. subsidiary that publishes Murdoch's British newspapers.

Brooks faces three counts of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, while the other suspects face one count each of the same charge.

The maximum sentence for the charges they face is life in prison, the Crown Prosecution Service said, but a British lawyer said a more likely sentence is four to 18 months. Lawyer James Lofthouse said the longest sentence he could recall was 42 months.

Brooks became chief executive of News International after editing two Murdoch tabloids: the News of the World and the Sun. She resigned last summer and was arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice in March.

Police gave prosecutors files on seven suspects in March. Alison Levitt of the Crown Prosecution Service said in May that prosecutors had decided not to press charges against one of them.

Police opened investigations into phone hacking, computer hacking and bribery of public officials last year and have arrested dozens of people. Most are waiting for police to decide whether to recommend that prosecutors press charges for phone hacking or corruption.


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