LONDON --Jury selection began Monday in the phone hacking trial of two former top editors of Rupert Murdoch's now-shuttered News of the World tabloid and six other people, all accused in a scandal that reached into the top echelons of Britain's government and journalism establishment.
The defendants include Rebekah Brooks, a former executive of News International -- once the British branch of Murdoch's News Corp. -- and a former editor of the News of the World, and Andy Coulson, another former News of the World editor who became chief press officer to Prime Minister David Cameron. The others include Brooks' husband, race horse trainer Charles Brooks, and various journalists implicated in the 2-year-old phone hacking case.
Dubbed the "trial of the century" by some British media, the case opened in London's Central Criminal court, better known as the Old Bailey.
Reporters and camera operators crowded outside the court building and into Court No. 12 and an annex opened to accommodate the overspill.
Brooks and Coulson both face charges that include conspiracy to intercept mobile phone messages, bribery of public officials and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by concealing evidence.
The trial is the culmination of a huge police inquiry that began in July 2011 after the Guardian newspaper published revelations of phone hacking by the News of the World, then under Brooks' editorship, into the mobile phone messages of Milly Dowler, a teenage girl who was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and killed in March 2002. The public outcry prompted the Murdoch family to close the popular, 168-year-old Sunday tabloid.
Prime Minister David Cameron ordered a public inquiry headed by former high court Judge Brian Leveson that lasted more than a year. It revealed hacking to be a widespread practice by tabloid journalists in search of scoops. The targets included the cellphones of celebrities, politicians, crime victims and people related to them and their work. The inquiry also found evidence of the electronic interception of emails and other computer data and illegal payments to public officials.
In three separate police investigations, more than 100 media executives, journalists and public officials have been arrested, about 40 have been charged and new press regulations are under contentious discussion, with a government decision due this week.
Monday's court sessions were taken up with jury selection. In keeping with British court reporting rules, presiding judge John Saunders ordered a ban on reporting and tweeting the proceedings. All defendants have denied the charges in pretrial hearings.
Besides the two Brookses and Coulson, the other defendants are former staff from News International. They include Stuart Kuttner, former News of the World managing editor; Ian Edmondson, former news editor; Clive Goodman, former royal correspondent; Cheryl Carter, former assistant to Rebekah Brooks; and Mark Hanna, former security chief at News International.