English newspaper hacking trial in final stretch

News of the World trial verdict due

Over seven months, the drama of the News of the World phone hacking trial unfolded in London's Old Bailey court. Like a modern-day Greek tragedy it offered boundless schadenfreude to onlookers - although the drama verged into farce on more than one occasion, with Charlie Brooks's hangover cure (Fairy Liquid) and porn stash providing comic relief.

The appearance of actor Jude Law as a witness, and the revelation by the defence that one of Law's family members had sold stories on him, while he was in the witness box, added a soap opera touch.

This particular bit of theatre is now in its final act. With the jury expected to be out from early this week, it is now a waiting game. If they fail to reach a verdict quickly, the judge may ask them to reach a majority verdict instead. The process could take weeks, or hours.

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Rebekah Brooks, the most recognizable of those in the dock, is facing four charges: one of conspiracy to intercept communications; another of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office and two of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. A further charge of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office was dropped during the course of the trial.

The intercepting communications charge hangs on whether the jury believes beyond reasonable doubt she knew about phone hacking by her subordinates at now defunct newspaper News of the World.

One of the most dramatic moments in the early stages of the trial came when it emerged she had had an on/off affair with co-defendant Andy Coulson, the former News of the World editor who became the Prime Minister's head of communications. He is facing two counts of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office, and one of conspiracy to intercept communications.

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The prosecution argued that the affair showed how close they were.

"Some of those on trial enjoyed a lifestyle you can only dream of, not just in financial terms but influence they brought to bear," Mr Justice Saunders, the judge in charge of the trial, told the jury as he warned them not to be "dazzled" by defendants like former News Corp executive Rebekah Brooks."Respect their success but everyone is subject to the law of the land – no one is so powerful they can ignore the law."

Brooks was able to call on advice from no less than former Prime Minister Tony Blair after the closure of the News of the World, it emerged - which illustrated the apparent cosiness at the top of the British establishment highlighted by the trial.

Rebekah Brooks, former head of News International, arrives at the Old Bailey in London in September 2012 for a preliminary hearing.
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What the jury decides about the circumstances around a reporter from the now-defunct News Corp-owned News of the World listening to the voicemails of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, more than 12 years ago, will be key.

"Who made the decision and who was party to it?" Mr Justice Saunders asked the jury in his summing up.

Charlie Brooks, Rebekah Brooks's husband, her PA Cheryl Carter, and former News International security chief Mark Hanna, each face one charge of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Brooks's defence for attempting to dispose of a laptop and iPad from the couple's London apartment was that it contained his porn collection and he wanted to avoid embarrassment.

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Ex-News of the World Royal Editor Clive Goodman also faces two charges of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office. Ian Edmondson and Stuart Kuttner, both former News International executives, are charged on one count each of conspiracy to intercept communications. The defendants have denied all charges.

Outside the courtroom, Rupert Murdoch, NewsCorp's founder, reshuffled leadership at the two companies News Corp had been divided into: publishing arm News Corp and production company 21st Century Fox. Elder son Lachlan was promoted to non-executive co-chairman of both News Corp and Fox, while younger James became co-chief operating officer of Fox. This was seen by some as a signal Lachlan had won the battle to succeed his father in the top job, while James has yet to fully shake the dust of having been in charge during the phone hacking fallout from his feet.