One of Rupert Murdoch's most trusted lieutenants and five people close to her were charged Tuesday with conspiring to hide evidence of phone hacking, bringing the scandal that has raged across Britain's media and political elite uncomfortably close to Prime Minister David Cameron.
The charges against former U.K. tabloid editor Rebekah Brooks, her husband, Charlie Brooks, and four aides are the first prosecutions since police reopened inquiries 18 months ago into wrongdoing by the country's scandal-hungry press.
Brooks, 43, faces three separate allegations of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice -- an offense that could carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
For years, Brooks was the star in Murdoch's media empire, the top editor of two of his tabloids, a friend of his daughter, Elisabeth, and a close friend of Cameron, who has known her husband, Charlie, since they both went to an elite high school. Cameron is a neighbor, a friend and an occasional horse-riding companion of the couple.
The prospect that courts will hear potentially explosive accusations against Rebekah Brooks and her husband could rock both Murdoch's global media empire and Cameron's political career.
The alleged lawbreaking involved removing computers and files in the frantic days last summer when Murdoch shut down his 168-year-old News of the World tabloid in an attempt to halt a tide of public disgust over the hacking scandal.