Former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks, her husband and four others were charged Tuesday over alleged attempts to conceal evidence of Britain's tabloid phone hacking scandal, prosecutors said.
The criminal charges are the first to be filed since police launched a new inquiry into phone hacking in January 2011. Previously, two people were jailed in 2007 for hacking the phones of members of the royal household.
Brooks, 43, who quit as News International chief executive in July, faces three separate allegations of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice — an offence that carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Alison Levitt, the principal legal adviser to Britain's Director of Public Prosecutions, said that Brooks is alleged to have concealed material from police — including computers and other electronic devices — and is accused of removing seven boxes of material from News International archives.
Brooks' husband Charlie Brooks, a racehorse trainer; Brooks' former personal assistant Cheryl Carter; the ex-head of security at News International Mark Hanna; Brooks' ex-chauffeur Paul Edwards; and Daryl Jorsling, a member of the firm's security staff, also face allegations of obstruction of justice.
Levitt confirmed that a seventh person, who was also a member of News International security staff, would not face any charges.
"All these matters relate to the ongoing police investigation into allegations of phone hacking and corruption of public officials in relation to the News of the World and The Sun newspapers," Levitt said.
Brooks calls prosecution unjust
The offences are all alleged to have taken place in the frantic days last July when Rupert Murdoch closed down the 168-year-old News of The World amid widespread public disgust over revelations that it had hacked the cell phone of a missing schoolgirl who was later found dead.
Murdoch announced his decision on July 7, 2011. Levitt said the alleged offences took place between July 6 and July 19.
In a statement, Brooks and her husband said the decision by the Crown Prosecution Service to file charges was unjust.
"We deplore this weak and unjust decision. After the further unprecedented posturing of the CPS we will respond later today after our return from the police station," the couple said in a statement.
Levitt said that all six would appear for hearings at Westminster Magistrates' Court. No dates have been set for the hearings.
Carter's lawyer Henri Bradman said in a statement that Brooks' former assistant "vigorously denies the commission" of any offence. He said that the ex-aide was suffering the "most unhappy period of her life."
Brooks, who spent more than 20 years working in the News Corp. empire — rising from a junior employee to chief executive — remains on police bail over separate allegations related to illegal eavesdropping, and will face more questions from detectives on that issue in the coming months.
Frequent text messages with Cameron
Last week, she was questioned by Britain's media ethics inquiry over her close links to leading politicians — including Prime Minister David Cameron, a neighbor and longtime friend of her husband.
She acknowledged that while serving as a news executive she had frequently traded text messages with Cameron, and that he had sent her a message of support as she stepped down amid the scandal.
Separately, police said Tuesday that two people had been arrested in their investigation into the alleged bribery of public officials by tabloid reporters seeking scoops.
A 50-year-old man who works for Britain's Revenue and Customs department, which handles taxes and welfare payments, was detained on suspicion of misconduct in a public office. A 43-year-old woman was arrested over an allegation of assisting misconduct in a public office and money laundering offences.
Detectives said that both arrests were the result of information supplied by News Corp.'s management standards committee, which has turned over evidence of alleged wrongdoing.