Brooks and Coulson to face UK press inquiry

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LONDON (Reuters) – Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson – the two former News of the World editors who took the British phone hacking scandal into the political domain with their close ties to government – will appear before a judicial press inquiry next week.

Coulson and Brooks, who have both been arrested and freed on bail, will appear before the Leveson inquiry on Thursday and Friday respectively to answer questions about their links to politicians and the police, according to the inquiry’s official schedule posted on its website.

Coulson moved from the News of the World to become spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron while Brooks was a close confidante of Rupert Murdoch’s and of a string of British prime ministers including the current Conservative leader.

Cameron reluctantly ordered the judicial inquiry last year to examine the conduct of the press, after staff at the News of the World admitted hacking into voicemails of ordinary people, soldiers, victims of crime and celebrities to produce stories.

The inquiry has since broadened out to examine the close links between the press, police and politicians and whether this prevented the authorities from properly investigating the allegations of phone hacking when they surfaced in 2006.

Rupert Murdoch and his son James spent three days before the inquiry last week, insisting that they had not known about phone hacking or used their political influence to prevent it from being detected.

Coulson, who has not spoken publicly since he was arrested last July, edited Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid from 2003 to 2007 before going on to work for Cameron when he was in opposition and then in Downing Street.

He left the paper when his royal correspondent went to jail for hacking voicemails in 2007, saying he took responsibility for the crime but had not personally known about the practice.

Critics were far from impressed, however, and with Cameron facing increasing questions about his judgment, Coulson stood down from his spokesman’s role in January 2011 and was arrested over allegations of corruption and phone hacking in July.

Rebekah Brooks, instantly recognizable for her red hair, edited the News of the World from 2000 to 2003 and went on to edit the Sun daily tabloid for six years before stepping up to run Murdoch’s British newspaper arm from 2009 to 2011.

She was arrested in 2011 for phone hacking and again in March this year on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

Brooks was close friends with former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and has been part of a close group that includes Cameron and Murdoch’s daughter Elisabeth, labeled the “Chipping Norton set”.

The group also includes other members of the political and media elites who live in and around the well-heeled Oxfordshire town of Chipping Norton, giving rise to accusations of cronyism.

Cameron, Brown and Blair are all likely to be called in the coming weeks and will face accusations that the country has been run by an exclusive clique of people out to support each other.

The prime minister has apologized repeatedly for getting too close to the Murdochs and now faces further embarrassment as Brooks prepares to reveal text messages and emails between herself and Cameron as part of the inquiry.

(Created by Kate Holton Editing by Maria Golovnina)

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