Rebekah Brooks, a close confidante of Rupert Murdoch, was charged on Tuesday with interfering with a police investigation into a phone-hacking scandal that has rocked the tycoon's media empire and sent shockwaves through the British political establishment.
Brooks was charged with concealing material from detectives, conspiring to remove boxes of archive records from Murdoch's London headquarters, and hiding documents, computers and other electronic equipment from the police.
The news is a personal blow for Murdoch and also embarrassing for British Prime Minister David Cameron, who was close friends with Brooks and her husband and sent her messages of support when the alleged offenses took place.
"I have concluded ... there is sufficient evidence for there to be a realistic prospect of conviction," said Alison Levitt, principal legal advisor to the director of public prosecutions.
"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," Levitt said.
Also charged were Brooks's racehorse trainer husband, Charlie Brooks; her secretary; and other staff including her driver and security officials from News International, the British newspaper arm of Murdoch's News Corp media empire.
The maximum sentence for perverting the course of justice is theoretically a life prison term.
"We deplore this weak and unjust decision," Rebekah and Charlie Brooks said in a statement, adding they would comment further after they returned from police stations.
There was no comment from Cameron's office.
Dubbed by some the "fifth daughter" of Rupert Murdoch, Brooks edited the News of the World from 2000 to 2003 and went on to become the first female editor of the Sun daily tabloid, Britain's most widely read newspaper, for six years. Murdoch closed the News of the World, a Sunday tabloid, last year as a result of the scandal.
With her close ties to the upper echelons of the British establishment, including a string of prime ministers and senior police officers, Brooks was promoted to run Murdoch's British newspaper arm in 2009.
But the 43-year-old, instantly recognizable for her mane of flame-red hair, was forced to step down last July under a tide of revelations about phone hacking, and was arrested two days later over allegations of interception of communications, and corruption.
She was detained again in March this year, along with her husband, over the allegations relating to perverting the course of justice. Detectives have not concluded their investigations into the other potential offenses.
Police re-launched an investigation in January last year into claims that journalists at the News of the World routinely hacked into the phones of celebrities, politicians and victims of crime to generate front-page stories.
They are also investigating whether staff hacked into computers and made illegal payments to public officials, including the police, to get ahead in their reporting.
More than 160 staffers are now working on one of the biggest investigations ever carried out by London police and almost 50 people have been arrested.
The others charged Tuesday were Cheryl Carter, Brooks's personal assistant; Mark Hanna, the head of security at News International; Paul Edwards, her chauffeur; and Daryl Jorsling, who provided security for Brooks.
© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.