* New charge for former News of the World editor
* Blow for PM Cameron who hired him as media chief
* Charged with conspiring to pay for royals' information
By Kate Holton and Natalie Huet
LONDON, Nov 20 Prime Minister David Cameron's
former media chief Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, the former
boss of Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper business, were
charged on Tuesday with conspiring to make illegal payments to
officials for information for stories.
The charges against the pair, who were both close to
Cameron, relate to their former roles as editors of the
Murdoch-owned News of the World Sunday tabloid and its sister
daily paper the Sun.
Prosecutors accuse Coulson of conspiring to obtain private
information about Britain's royal family, while Brooks was
charged over payments of 100,000 pounds ($160,100) to a civil
servant from the Ministry of Defence to garner details for news
The decision to charge them is a blow to the reputation of
Cameron, who has been forced to defend his hiring of Coulson
since a phone-hacking scandal exploded last year at the
now-closed News of the World.
Critics say Cameron - who meets Queen Elizabeth once a week
- ignored warnings about Coulson's reputation to appoint him to
shape his media strategy to connect better with ordinary voters.
The charge against Brooks, whose friendly texts and emails
to Cameron were laid bare at a public inquiry into press
standards, compounds the embarrassment for him.
Asked if hiring Coulson and being so close to Brooks
reflected badly on his judgment, Cameron said: "I have made it
clear (my) regret on many occasions on this issue.
"I have also said very clearly that we should allow the
police and prosecuting authorities to follow the evidence
wherever it leads, I think that is very important," he told
reporters during a visit to Northern Ireland.
Since resigning from his Downing Street post in 2011,
Coulson has been charged with conspiracy to hack into phone
messages and perjury, possible first steps to what would be
politically charged court cases.
He said in a statement he would fight the latest charges in
court. Lawyers for Brooks, 44, were not immediately available to
comment but she has previously denied any wrongdoing.
They were both bailed to appear at Westminster Magistrates
Court on Nov. 29.
FALL FROM GRACE
Like Coulson, Brooks, a former editor of the News of the
World and the daily Sun tabloid, has already been charged with
conspiring to hack into phones.
She has also been charged with attempts to pervert the
course of justice, after years in which she was courted by prime
ministers from Labour's Tony Blair to Conservative Cameron as
the boss of hugely popular and influential newspapers.
"This is a man (Cameron) with a red face over Coulson that
is now turning from crimson to scarlet," Roy Greenslade, author
of several books on the British press and a former senior editor
at the Sun, told Reuters.
The string of accusations have marked the fall from grace
for two of Britain's most connected media executives, and have
damaged not only Cameron but their former boss Murdoch.
The new charges stem from a wider investigation into the
British press initiated by disclosures that journalists at the
News of the World had hacked into phone messages on an
Facing a public backlash, Murdoch closed the mass-selling
Sunday title last year and formed an internal committee to
cooperate with the police.
In a worrying development for the rest of Murdoch's British
business, prosecutors also charged, for the first time, an
employee of the Sun. John Kay, the paper's chief reporter from
1990 to 2011, declined to comment.
Prosecutors said they would also charge the former Royal
correspondent of the News of the World, Clive Goodman, for
conspiring to pay public officials for the so-called "Green
Book" of Royal contact details.
"We have concluded, following a careful review of the
evidence, that Clive Goodman and Andy Coulson should be charged
with two conspiracies," senior prosecutor Alison Levitt said.
A spokesman for the Royal Family and a spokeswoman for
Murdoch's British newspaper arm, News International, declined to
Police have arrested 52 people in connection with making
payments to public officials, including numerous staff from the
Sun, the police and a member of the armed forces.