London – Once among the most powerful figures in the British media, with close contacts stretching from her boss, Rupert Murdoch, to her friend, David Cameron, Rebekah Brooks, the former head of Mr. Murdoch’s British newspaper empire, was told by prosecutors on Tuesday that she, her husband and four others will face charges of conspiring to pervert the course of justice in the hacking scandal that has burrowed into public life here.
It was the first time the charges have been formulated since police reopened inquiries into the affair in January 2011 and intensified their questioning six months later. The development brought the scandal to a watershed between criminal investigations, which have resulted in around 50 people being arrested and then set free on bail, and the prospect of trial before robed judges.
The six were accused variously of concealing documents, computers and archive material from officers investigating the scandal last July.
In the case of Ms. Brooks, 43, the accusations punctuated what had been a stellar career.
She was at various times the editor of Mr. Murdoch’s two market-leading British tabloids — The Sun and the now defunct News of the World — and went on to become chief executive of News International, the British newspaper subsidiary of the Murdoch family’s New York-based News Corporation.
At the same time, Ms. Brooks built a Rolodex of ties and access to the political elite and befriended successive prime ministers. The latest, Mr. Cameron, once signed text messages to her with the letters “LOL,” believing it to mean “lots of love,” she told a judicial inquiry only days ago.
The decision to prosecute Ms. Brooks and her husband was seen as a blow to Mr. Murdoch and Mr. Cameron, who has been depicted as maintaining a cozy friendship with Ms. Brooks both in opposition and in office as prime minister since 2010. But it drew a combative response from the couple even before the Crown Prosecution Service announced the detail of the charges.
“We have this morning been informed by the Office of the Department of Public Prosecutions that we are to be charged with perverting the course of justice,” Ms. Brooks and her husband, Charlie Brooks, a racehorse trainer, said in a statement issued minutes before the Crown Prosecution Service, or C.P.S., announced that it would bring charges. “We deplore this weak and unjust decision.”
“After the further unprecedented posturing of the C.P.S., we will respond later today after our return from the police station,” the couple’s statement said.
The Crown Prosecution Service said it had received a file of evidence from the police on March 27 concerning Ms. Brooks, her husband and five other suspects. The prosecutors’ statement was read by Alison Levitt, the principal legal adviser to the director of public prosecutions.
“This statement is made in the interests of transparency and accountability to explain the decisions reached in respect of allegations that Rebekah Brooks conspired with her husband, Charles Brooks and others to pervert the course of justice,” Ms. Levitt said.
The other suspects were identified as Cheryl Carter, Ms. Brooks’ personal assistant, Mark Hanna, the head of security at News International, a chauffeur, Paul Edwards, and two security consultants, only one of whom was named as Daryl Jorsling.
Citing the two tests required for a prosecution, Ms. Levitt said that there was “sufficient evidence for there to be a realistic prospect of conviction” of all of them with the exception of the unidentified security consultant and that “a prosecution is required in the public interest in relation to each of the other six.” No further action would be taken against the seventh, unidentified suspect.
The charges, Ms. Levitt said, were that between July 6 and 19, 2011, all six suspects conspired to “conceal material” from police officers and to “remove seven boxes of material from the archive of News International.”
Ms. Brooks, Mr. Brooks, Mr. Hanna, Mr. Edwards and Mr. Jorsling also conspired “to conceal documents, computers and other electronic equipment” from Scotland Yard police officers.
“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,” Ms. Levitt said.
Prosecutors said evidence linked to five other unidentified people suspected of perverting the course of justice was under review. While the maximum legal penalty for the offense is life in prison, legal experts told the BBC, Ms. Brooks and her co-accused, if found guilty, could receive jail terms of several months or, possibly, a few years,
The six suspects were set to be arraigned at Westminster Crown Court on Tuesday or Wednesday but a full trial was unlikely before late 2012 or early 2013, these experts said.
The police investigation leading to the charges is one of three separate, but overlapping inquiries, including a parliamentary panel and a judicial inquiry under Lord Justice Brian Leveson. The charges set out on Tuesday had their roots at a time when Ms. Brooks was arrested and freed on bail last year as the scandal cascaded over Mr. Murdoch’s British newspaper outpost, particularly The News of the World, which he ordered closed as a result of the scandal.
Up until last July, the affair had seemed to simmer until disclosures that a private investigator working for The News of the World hacked into the voice mail of Milly Dowler, an abducted teenager who was later found murdered in 2002. Public revulsion at the revelation led police and other investigators to challenge News International’s assertions that hacking had been the work of a single “rogue reporter” who hacked into voice mail messages associated with the royal family in 2006.
Ms. Brooks, a striking figure with distinctive tresses of red hair, testified last week before a judicial inquiry into press ethics and behavior, chronicling a series of social engagements, phone calls and text messages exchanged with Mr. Cameron.
As a leading media figure, Ms. Brooks oversaw newspapers that took pride in influencing millions of voters at election time. In 2000, at the age of 31, she became the editor of the News of the World and went on to edit the top-selling daily tabloid The Sun from 2003 to 2009 before becoming chief executive of News International.
She resigned in July and was arrested on a variety of offenses, including alleged phone hacking and corruption, for which she has not been charged, as well as perverting the course of justice.
The police inquiries are divided into separate cases with different codenames — Operation Elveden, covering illegal payments to police officers; Operation Weeting, dealing with phone hacking; Operation Tuleta, investigating e-mail hacking; Operation Sasha, concerning alleged perversion of the course of justice; and Operation Kilo, handling unauthorized police leaks.
The police have said that more than 800 people were possible victims of phone hacking.
During her testimony before the judicial inquiry last Friday, British law prevented Ms. Brooks from answering questions relating directly to the criminal investigations for fear of prejudicing any future trial.
But in a remarkable glimpse of the relationship between the Murdoch press and politicians, she tallied her contacts with Mr. Cameron, saying they kept in touch by telephone, text message and e-mail; met at lunches and dinners; and socialized at cocktail parties, birthday parties, summer outings, Christmas celebrations and, in one heady instance, on a yacht in Greece.
She even found herself, she said, correcting Mr. Cameron on his text message language.
“Occasionally he would sign them LOL ‘lots of love,'” Ms. Brooks told the Leveson Inquiry on media ethics and practices, speaking of Mr. Cameron’s text messages to her when he was the leader of the opposition, “until I told him it meant ‘laugh out loud.’ Then he didn’t use that anymore.”