Rebekah Brooks angrily criticised police and prosecutors for dragging her friends and family into the phone-hacking scandal last night as she said she was "baffled" at facing criminal charges.
In four weeks, she will appear in the dock of Westminster magistrates' court charged with three counts of conspiring to pervert the course of justice, an offence which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Mrs Brooks and her husband Charlie – an Eton contemporary and friend of the Prime Minister's – are accused of taking part in a cover-up during the peak of the phone-hacking scandal last summer.
In a statement yesterday, Mr Brooks said: "I feel today is an attempt to use me and others as scapegoats, the effect of which will be to ratchet up pressure on my wife, who I believe is also the subject of a witch-hunt."
Contesting the move by prosecutors, Ms Brooks added that she was "baffled by the decision to charge [her].
"I can't express my anger enough that those closest to me have been dragged into this unfairly. As the details of the case emerge people will see today as an expensive sideshow, and a waste of public money."
Four associates of the 43-year-old Mrs Brooks are charged alongside her with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Her personal assistant Cheryl Carter, chauffeur Paul Edwards, Daryl Jorsling, a security consultant, and Mark Hanna, the head of security at News International, will appear with the Brookses at a preliminary court hearing on 13 June.
The charges, announced yesterday, are the first in the deepening scandal for six years, since police arrested the News of the World's royal reporter Clive Goodman and the private detective Glenn Mulcaire in August 2006.
Between 6 and 9 July last year, Mrs Brooks and Ms Carter, her PA and the former beauty editor of The Sun, are said to have "conspired together to remove seven boxes of material from the archive of News International".
Between 6 and 19 July, Mrs Brooks is accused of conspiring with her husband Charlie, and Ms Carter, Mr Hanna, Mr Edwards, Mr Jorsling and persons unknown "to conceal material from officers of the Metropolitan Police Service". In the final count, covering 15 to 19 July 2011, Mrs Brooks, her husband Charlie, Mr Hanna, Mr Edwards and Mr Jorsling are said to have conspired together and with persons unknown to conceal documents, computers and other electronic equipment from the Met.
Henri Brandman, Ms Carter's solicitor, said she "vigorously denies" the allegations. Mr Hanna, who was based at News International's headquarters in Wapping, east London, said: "I will be totally exonerated."
The defendants' trial is expected to take place at the end of this year or in early 2013.