Two senior News Corp. journalists and the bodyguard of Rebekah Brooks, the former head of the company’s U.K. unit, were among six defendants who appeared at a London court for the first time to face bribery, misconduct and obstruction charges.
Fergus Shanahan, the executive editor of News Corp.’s Sun newspaper and a 24-year-veteran of the tabloid, and Duncan Larcombe, its chief royal reporter, had their cases transferred to a higher criminal court for a hearing in June. The four other defendants were also ordered to appear at the same time at a hearing in London today.
Shanahan is charged with authorizing a journalist to make two payments totalling 7,000 pounds ($10,800) to a public official in exchange for information between 2006 and 2007. Larcombe is accused of making 34 payments from 2006 through 2008 worth 23,000 pounds to a former sergeant at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst, where Princes William and Harry were commissioned, and his wife.
News Corp. newspapers have been at the heart of wide-ranging investigations since 2011 which have uncovered phone hacking and bribery allegations at its two main tabloids. News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch closed the company’s News of the World tabloid after revelations it had illegally accessed messages on the mobile phone of a murdered school girl.
Mary Kearney, a spokeswoman for News Corp’s U.K. unit, declined to comment on today’s court appearances.
The former Sandhurst sergeant, John Hardy, and his wife Claire, were charged with misconduct in a public office. A fourth suspect, Tracy Bell, is accused of accepting a bribe at Sandhurst. Bell, who was a pharmacy assistant at the facility’s medical center, received 1,250 pounds between October 2005 and July 2006 for information that featured in five Sun articles, prosecutors said.
Brooks’s former bodyguard, David Johnson, will face charges of hiding evidence during investigations of phone hacking and bribery at the company’s newspapers. Johnson, 47, concealed “computers and other items from the Metropolitan Police Service,” during its probes into voice-mail interception and corruption of public officials, prosecutors said. He was charged with perverting the course of justice.
Brooks, 44, the former chief executive officer of the U.K. unit and a past editor of both the Sun and the News of the World, has also been charged with phone hacking and bribery. She was charged for perverting the course of justice in May 2012 along with her husband, Charlie Brooks, over claims they hid papers and computers from investigators and removed seven boxes of material from the archive of London-based News International.
About 80 journalists and public officials have been arrested in connection with the criminal probes so far. Four former law enforcement officers have been sentenced to as much as two years in prison for passing on information to News Corp. U.K. tabloids, three of them in exchange for money.
News Corp. journalists are accused of hacking mobile-phone messages of more than 600 people, including U.S. actors Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, soccer player Wayne Rooney and murdered British schoolgirl Milly Dowler.