Andy Coulson, David Cameron's former spin doctor, was among seven former News of the World employees who saw their normal roles reversed yesterday as they sat together behind a glass panel in Westminster Magistrates' Court.
The veteran editors and reporters will have watched dozens of court cases in their long careers, but always from the press benches. Yesterday the six journalists, together with the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, were in the dock, being stared at by a huge, curious throng of members of their old profession.
The prosecutor said the six journalists were accused of conspiring to hack the phones of as many as 600 people. In addition to the general charge of conspiracy, Coulson, a former editor of the now defunct News of the World, is also accused of being implicated in targeting the phones of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, the former Labour Cabinet ministers David Blunkett and Charles Clarke, and the footballer George Best's son Calum.
Unlike the six journalists, Mulcaire, who worked for the News of the World on a freelance basis, was not accused of being part of a general conspiracy, but faces four individual charges, including the alleged hacking of Milly Dowler's phone. Mulcaire was the last defendant to enter the courtroom, and sat as far apart from the journalists as the limited space allowed. Coulson, in the middle of the front row, was dressed smartly in a grey suit, white shirt and black tie. Several times during the hearing he cast an impassive eye across the ranks of reporters.
He was placed between the News of the World's former managing editor, Stuart Kuttner, and the former head of news, Ian Edmondson. Former reporters Neville Thurlbeck and James Weatherup were on the ends of the front row. The former news editor Greg Miskiw, the only defendant not wearing a tie, was in the row behind.
They spoke only to confirm their names and addresses, but what might have been a very brief court appearance became substantially longer when Westminster's deputy chief magistrate, Daphne Wickham, decided that the full list of charges should be read out.
The list – so long that it took a clerk a full 20 minutes to get through it – was studded with famous names of alleged hacking targets, including four Cabinet ministers from the Tony Blair years – Mr Blunkett, Mr Clarke, Tessa Jowell and John Prescott – the fire brigade union leader Andy Gilchrist, the former Liberal Democrat MP Mark Oaten, as well as such household names as Jude Law, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Sir Paul McCartney, Heather Mills, Sven-Goran Eriksson, Wayne Rooney and Delia Smith.
Although none of the defendants is accused of hacking everyone on that list, each is accused of targeting some of them.
The defendants sat impassively through this litany, except for 72-year-old Stuart Kuttner, a News of the World journalist for more than 30 years, who shook his head repeatedly when the three charges against him were read.
The name of News International's former chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, also cropped up in the indictment. She is due to appear at a separate hearing on 3 September. Coulson and his fellow defendants were bailed to appear at Southwark Crown Court on 26 September.
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