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The British phone-hacking scandal heads into the home stretch Thursday as the defense opens in the trial of the woman who was once the most powerful journalist in Britain.

Here's what you need to know as lawyers for Rebekah Brooks, former chief executive of Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper operations, begin offering their evidence in London — the first of seven defendants charged in connection with the interception of the voicemails of celebrities, royalty, politicians and a murdered 13-year-old girl.

What's the case about?

The trial began in October after years of breathless coverage and parliamentary hearings into accusations and revelations that the weekly News of the World — while Brooks was editor — broke into telephone voicemail systems and eavesdropped on the messages of actors, members of the royal family, numerous political figures and Millie Dowler, a 13-year-old girl who was abducted and murdered in 2002.

The newspaper was closed, and Brooks resigned as chief executive of News International, the British subsidiary of Murdoch's sprawling News Inc. media empire.

Who else is charged?

Besides Brooks, six other people are charged, most prominently Andy Coulson, who replaced Brooks as editor of The News of the World and eventually became communications director for Prime Minister David Cameron.

Two other former News of the World journalists are also charged: then-managing editor Stuart Kuttner and Clive Goodman, the paper's royal reporter who's already served four months in jail for intercepting voicemails of members of the royal staff. Prosecutors in October told jurors that Goodman's guilty plea was evidence of a conspiracy at the paper.

In addition, Brooks is accused of having conspired with three other people to hide evidence from investigators: Her husband, Charles Brooks, a well-known former horseracing jockey and columnist, Cheryl Carter, her personal assistant at News International, and Mark Hanna, who was the company's head of security.

An eighth defendant, former News of the World news editor Ian Edmondson, was removed from the case in December for health reasons and will face trial later.

Who do prosecutors say was hacked?

The names of dozens of people have come up in evidence and testimony at trial so far. Some are famous and others not so famous, but all of them are considered likely to provide the juicy tabloid scandal stories the News of the World specialized in, according to evidence and testimony at the trial so far. Among them:

Millie Dowler: The 13-year-old girl whose abduction and slaying in 2002 eventually unraveled the scandal. The News of the World accessed her voicemail account for leads, in the process deleting some messages to free up room for more messages — thereby destroying potential evidence and misleading Millie's family into believing she might still be alive. The Guardian's scoop in July 2011 led to widespread public revulsion.

Entertainers: Paul McCartney, Jude Law, Sienna Miller and Daniel Craig.

The royal family and members of its staff: Prince Harry, Kate Middleton (now the wife of Prince William), Mark Dyer (Prince Charles' former personal attendant and private secretary), Paddy Harverson (Prince Charles' former communications director) and Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton (private secretary to Princes William and Harry).

Political figures: Jeffrey Archer (best-selling author and former member of Parliament who served prison time for perjury), former Home Secretaries David Blunkett and Charles Clarke, Nigel Farage (leader of the U.K. Independence Party), Tessa Jowell (the minister who organized the 2010 London Summer Olympics) and former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

Sports figures: Soccer superstar Wayne Rooney, Sven-Goran Eriksson (former coach of the English national soccer team), Faria Alam (former soccer executive implicated in an affair with Eriksson) and Elmear Cook (wife of superstar golfer Colin Montgomerie).

What's the latest?

The final bombshell from the prosecution Wednesday was an email in which Brooks told Rupert Murdoch's son James that former Prime Minister Tony Blair personally advised her on how to limit the fallout from the scandal just days before she was arrested in July 2011.

Blair's office issued a statement late Wednesday confirming that he'd spoken to Brooks, saying he'd merely offered general "informal advice" because "he knew nothing personally about the facts of the case."

When can we expect a verdict?

The prosecution took four months to air its case, and after Brooks wraps up her defense, the six other defendants get their turns.

Trial judge John Saunders has told jurors they might not even begin deliberations until mid-May.