The leadership of the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, will be rocked by the phone hacking scandal right into next year now that his friend Rebekah Brooks and his former media adviser Andy Coulson have been charged and face trial.
The pair face possible jail terms on charges they conspired to hack the phones of more than 600 people, and their trials next year may reveal new emails or evidence relating to dealings with Mr Cameron, who is up for election in 2015.
Mr Cameron has faced serious questions about his judgment in hiring Mr Coulson, who was appointed to Downing Street after resigning from News of the World over phone hacking.
Mr Cameron has also been criticised for his friendship with Mrs Brooks, a former chief executive of News International.
A lecturer in politics and media at Nottingham Trent University, Matthew Ashton, told the Herald last night: “The criminal charges make things potentially very difficult for Cameron. Obviously they are innocent until proven guilty but, in terms of public perception and media perception, this is going to hang over them and over him for up to the next two years.
“It calls into question again his judgment in being such close personal friends of Brooks and employing Coulson. There will be more questions asked about Coulson’s vetting.”
Mr Coulson, who like Mrs Brooks strongly denies all charges, has said he knew nothing of phone hacking but resigned because the practice took place on his watch.
Dr Ashton said the charges will force Mr Cameron to distance himself further from them.
“I’m sure if they could be erased from official photos without anyone noticing they would be,” he said. It would further strain Mr Cameron’s relationship with the Murdoch empire before an election, he said.
After Rupert Murdoch and his son James appeared before a committee of MPs inquiring into the phone-hacking allegations, coverage in The Times and The Sun gave Mr Cameron “a rougher ride”, Dr Ashton said.
Mrs Brooks and Mr Coulson are among eight people formerly employed by News of the World who are charged with 19 counts of conspiracy over phone hacking. Their targets allegedly included Labour cabinet ministers and celebrities.
Mr Coulson faces five counts of conspiring to unlawfully intercept communications, including the voicemail of a murdered schoolgirl, Milly Dowler. Mrs Brooks faces three similar counts.
Dr Ashton said the Prime Minister’s links with News International, revealed in the Leveson inquiry into the media, have also reinforced a view the Conservative Party looks after “its friends” rather than the people.
The Barclays banking scandal and the phone-hacking revelations have intertwined to create “a feeling that in what is supposed to be a meritocracy, the very top people in the country are out only for themselves and their friends and the fact that in the Leveson inquiry text messages between Mr Cameron and Mrs Brooks were revealed … did help create that mood about an old boys’ network in smoke-filled rooms”.First published in The Age.