Potential jurors urged to make sure they can attend epic trial

Jury selection has begun in the trial of Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson for charges linked to phone hacking and alleged corrupt payments to public officials.

Former News International chief executive Brooks and ex-British government spin doctor Coulson, both 45, appeared at the Old Bailey for the first day of proceedings that could take up to six months.

A panel of around 80 potential jurors were brought into the wood-panelled court 12 at around 12.30pm, and whittled down to 33 possible panel members. They were asked to fill in a questionnaire and given until today to make sure they can commit to the full length of the trial.

Mr Justice Saunders told them: “The trial which we are about to start will take a considerable length of time. It is estimated that the case may last until Easter. I hope that with the assistance of counsel the case will finish more quickly, but people who sit on it should be prepared for the case to go on that long.”

Seats had to be removed from the courtroom to allow the potential jurors to fit into the space.

The judge added: “To sit on a jury for this length of time, five or six months, is a significant disruption in people’s lives and we do appreciate that. We do need the assistance of members of the public like you to try this case. It is, as you will hear, an important case and we have to find a jury able to try it.”

He told them that jury service “is a public duty and is not voluntary”, and added: “It’s critical to the jury system... that a jury takes the case free from any preconceptions. From now on you do not discuss the case with anyone.”

Brooks, 45, of Churchill, and Coulson, 45, from Preston, are both accused of conspiracy to intercept communications in the course of their transmission. They are accused of conspiring with former News of the World (NotW) head of news Ian Edmondson, 44, from London, the tabloid’s ex-managing editor Stuart Kuttner, 73, from Essex, and others to illegally access voicemails between Oct 3, 2000, and Aug 9, 2006.

Ex-NotW and Sun editor Brooks is also charged with two counts of conspiring with others to commit misconduct in public office, one between Jan 1, 2004, and Jan 31, 2012, and the other between Feb 9, 2006, and Oct 16, 2008, linked to alleged inappropriate payments to public officials.

She faces another two allegations of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice — one with her former personal assistant Cheryl Carter, 49, from Chelmsford, between Jul 6 and 9, 2011. It is alleged they conspired to remove boxes of material from the News International archive.

The second count alleges that Brooks, her husband Charles Brooks and former head of security at News International Mark Hanna conspired together and with others between Jul 15 and Jul 19, 2011, to pervert the course of justice. It is claimed that they tried to conceal documents, computers and other electronic equipment from police officers who were investigating allegations of phone hacking and corruption of public officials in relation to the News of the World and The Sun.

Coulson is also facing two allegations that he conspired with the tabloid’s former royal editor Clive Goodman, 56, and persons unknown to commit misconduct in public office — one between Aug 31, 2002, and Jan 31, 2003; and the other between Jan 31 and Jun 3, 2005.

A pregnant woman was among the potential jurors excused from serving, and was immediately released to laughter in the courtroom.

Another had a holiday booked to celebrate a milestone birthday.

Potential jurors were asked to come back to court this morning, when it is expected a final panel will be sworn in. All eight defendants were released on bail until then.

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