British phone-hacking trial for ex-Rupert Murdoch employees starts



Former News International Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks arrives for the first day of the phone-hacking trial at London’s Central Criminal Court on Oct. 28, 2013.



The judge presiding over the phone-hacking case in London on Tuesday warned the jury that the British justice system was on trial in addition to the eight defendants.

Justice John Saunders made the remarks after the jury of nine women and three men was sworn in at the Central Criminal Court, commonly known as the Old Bailey. 

Former News International Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks and former News of the World Editor and one-time communications chief for British Prime Minister David Cameron, Andy Coulson, are among the eight defendants in the dock.

The accused – all of whom are former Murdoch employees except for Brooks’ husband, Charles -- have denied the charges against them, which range from illegally hacking the cell phone voicemails of celebrities, bribing public officials and covering up evidence.

“The defendants are on trial but British justice is also on trial. It is a central principle of our system of trial by jury that you reach your verdicts only on the evidence heard in court,” Justice Saunders said.

"Where evidence is given in court that can be and will be tested.

"There has been a great deal of publicity about this case, perhaps an unprecedented amount.

"The internet is generally not controlled and often fuelled by opinion and speculation, a great deal of information is imparted and received by people through Facebook and Twitter.

"A significant amount of publicity has been inaccurate and misleading... offensive and demeaning to some of the defendants. A lot is ill-informed and most of it is abusive."

The phone-hacking scandal erupted two years ago with revelations that News of the World journalists had allegedly hacked voicemail messages left on the cell phone of murdered British teenager Milly Dowler. That triggered a judge-led media-ethics inquiry and several criminal investigations that led to the arrest of more than 125 people. More than 40 have been charged. 

The scandal revealed the close ties between press barons, police chiefs and senior politicians. The media industry is still at loggerheads with Cameron's government over how it should be regulated.

A second trial involving journalists from The Sun newspaper, which is also owned by Murdoch, is scheduled for next year. 

Opening arguments in the trial, which Justice Saunders has warned could last up to six months, are expected to begin Wednesday afternoon.  

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