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U.K. prosecutors consider charges over phone hacking

- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 18, 2012

LONDON — Criminal charges are being considered against 11 people in four cases related to investigations into tabloid phone hacking and other alleged misconduct by British newspapers, the country's chief prosecutor said Wednesday.

Four reporters, one police officer and six other people are involved in the cases, the first to be referred to prosecutors since new police investigations were triggered by revelations that tabloid journalists routinely intercepted voice mail messages of those in the public eye.

Keir Starmer, head of Britain's Crown Prosecution Service, made the announcement as he laid out new guidelines to help his lawyers assess whether reporters broke the law.

Though he declined to say how long deliberations would take, Starmer indicated potential criminal prosecutions over tabloid wrongdoing were drawing near.

"We are now entering a period where we are likely to make a decision one way or another," Starmer said.

A total of 43 people have been arrested in three parallel investigations into alleged bribery of public officials, phone voice mail hacking and computer hacking.

Those questioned include at least 25 past and present employees of News International, the British newspaper division of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., including Rebekah Brooks, former chief executive of News International, and Andy Coulson, former editor of the News of the World and Prime Minister David Cameron's ex-communications director.

Police began their new inquiries amid public revulsion that journalists at Murdoch's News of the World had routinely intercepted voice mails of celebrities and victims of crime.

Murdoch closed down the 168-year-old tabloid in July, while Cameron ordered a sweeping, judge-led inquiry into British media ethics.

The Crown Prosecution Service refused to disclose the identities of those involved in the cases which have been referred, though Starmer acknowledged prosecutors have a delicate task given the high-profile nature of the scandal.

"The decisions we are going to make are going to be extremely difficult and extremely sensitive," Starmer said. "We have got to make a decision because these cases are coming. We cannot duck that."

The service said one case involves a journalist and a police officer accused of misconduct in a public office and data protection offenses, while another relates to a journalist and six other individuals accused of perverting the course of justice.

A third case relates to an allegation of witness intimidation, while the fourth file covers a journalist's purported breaches of laws which cover covert surveillance — potentially phone hacking.

Starmer acknowledged one case related to police inquiries into Brooks and her racehorse trainer husband Charlie Brooks over alleged attempts to cover up of the scale of phone hacking.

"These just happen to be the four files we have got, there may be others. We don't know," Starmer said.

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