LONDON - After a marathon court case that exposed the secrets of the world's royal, political, and media elite, Britain's phone hacking trial was handed over to jurors on Wednesday.
At the heart of the case is the now-shuttered News of the World, a brash tabloid owned by media tycoon Rupert Murdoch that was famous for undercover investigations and celebrity kiss-and-tells.
Both prosecutors and defense lawyers agree that staff at the London-based paper obtained some of their sensational stories by listening to the voice mails belonging to scores of people, including A-list celebrities and a 13-year-old murder victim.
But prosecutors allege that two of the newspaper's most high-profile editors, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, knew about the widespread use of this illicit practice and "none of them lifted a finger to stop it." If convicted the defendants face up to two years in jail, the maximum term for phone hacking.
Five other people, including Brooks' husband and her personal assistant, also face charges such as bribery and perverting the course of justice.
The seven-month case has served up countless tidbits of gossip from the lives of celebrities, royalty and other members of the British establishment.
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"Everyone is subject to the law of the land. No one is so powerful they can ignore the law"
Hollywood stars Jude Law and Sienna Miller were among the celebrities who testified about being alleged targets of phone hacking at the hands of News of the World journalists.
Salacious as many of these celebrity and political stories aired during the trial were, perhaps the biggest intrigue involved the relationship between Brooks, Coulson, and British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Jurors were told of Brooks and Cameron attending private parties, and evidence revealed an affair between Brooks and Coulson, her onetime colleague who went on to be Cameron's director of communications as his Conservative party swept to power.
Brooks and Coulson are accused of "conspiracy to intercept communications" - which is the practice of hacking into people's voice mail inboxes and listening to their messages. They are also facing charges of paying public officials for information and buying royal phone directories that were then used to hack phones.
Prosecutors say the newspaper paid $168,000 to private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, who was briefly jailed in 2007 for phone hacking.
Murdoch - whose empire in the U.S. includes the Wall Street Journal and New York Post - closed the 168-year-old News of the World in response to the scandal.
The newspaper's onetime managing editor Stuart Kuttner is accused of phone hacking, and royal editor Clive Goodman is accused of bribery.
Brooks, her husband Charlie Brooks, and her personal assistant Cheryl Carter and security chief at Murdoch's News International Mark Hanna are accused of conspiring to pervert the course of justice. Prosecutors allege Carter hid notebooks at her boss's request, and that Charlie Brooks attempted to conceal materials including a laptop from investigators.
Brooks' lawyer Jonathan Laidlaw QC said his client has been subjected to a "witch hunt," the AP reported.
In her own testimony, Brooks gave and account of the contrast between the meteoric rise she enjoyed in her career and her "car-crash" personal life, including the affair with Coulson.
Summing up for the jury, Judge John Saunders told them they must not be "dazzled" by the daily existences of many defendants and witnesses.
"Some of those on trial enjoyed a lifestyle you can only dream of, not just in financial terms but influence they brought to bear," he said, according to the AP. "They were friends of politicians, they are friends of the stars.
"You do not envy them their success or be dazzled by it. Respect their success, but everyone is subject to the law of the land. No one is so powerful they can ignore the law."