Britain's longest-running newspaper scandal, involving the most powerful media group, was on Tuesday finally headed for the courts as Rebekah Brooks, former chief executive of Rupert Murdoch's News International, and her husband Charlie Brooks, a racehorse trainer, were charged with offences relating to the News of the World phone hacking allegations.
Though nearly 50 people have been arrested in connection with the case and police investigations continue, the couple are the first to face a trial and the prospect of imprisonment, if convicted.
They accused the prosecution service of “unprecedented posturing'', and said they “deplore this weak and unjust decision''.
The Brooks, who are on bail, are accused of conspiring to pervert the course of justice by tampering with evidence relevant to the hacking inquiry. The charges relate to July last year when, it is alleged, they conspired to remove seven boxes of material from the News International archive, and conceal documents, computers and other electronic equipment from police.
Four others, including Ms Brooks' former personal assistant Cheryl Carter and News International's head of security, Mark Hanna, were also charged.
Director of Public Prosecutions' legal adviser Alison Levitt said there was “sufficient evidence for there to be a realistic prospect of conviction''.
“All these matters relate to the ongoing police investigation into allegations of phone hacking and corruption of public officials in relation to the News of the World and The Sun newspapers,” she said.
Ms Brooks, who edited NoW and The Sun before becoming News International's chief executive, also faces separate allegations over her role in phone hacking but no formal charges have been brought.
Claims that it was under her watch at NoW that voicemails on the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler's phone were allegedly hacked forced her to quit News International, and led to the closure of the 168-year-old NoW last summer.
Tuesday's developments were likely to embarrass Prime Minister David Cameron whose close relationship with the Brooks is the subject of a judicial inquiry into the media-politician nexus. A friend of Mr. Brooks since their Eton days, Mr Cameron also became close to Ms. Brooks signing off private messages to her with “LOL'' which he thought meant “lots of love'' but stopped after she told him it meant “laughing out loud''. She was instrumental in Mr. Murdoch's decision to switch his newspapers' support from Labour to the Tories at the last election.
Others charged on Tuesday also denied any wrongdoing. A lawyer for Ms Carter, Ms Brooks's former PA, said she was going through the “most unhappy period of her life”.