LONDON -- In a blockbuster declaration at Britain's phone hacking trial, a prosecutor said two of Rupert Murdoch's senior tabloid executives -- Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson -- had an affair lasting at least six years.
Prosecutor Andrew Edis made the disclosure Thursday during Coulson's and Brooks' trial on phone hacking and other charges, the first major criminal case to go to court in the hacking saga.
Brooks, Coulson and six other people now on trial, including Brooks' husband Charles, all deny the various charges against them, which range from phone hacking to bribing officials to obstructing a police investigation.
Edis said the affair covered the period when Brooks was the top editor of Murdoch's News of the World tabloid and Coulson was her deputy. Brooks edited the paper from 2000 to 2003, then went on to edit its sister paper, The Sun, and later became the chief executive of Murdoch's British newspaper division. Coulson edited the News of the World from 2003 to 2007.
Edis said the affair began in 1998 and lasted about six years. It ended before Coulson's role as a top communications director to Prime Minister David Cameron began after Cameron's election in 2010.
The affair covered the crucial period in 2002 when the News of the World hacked the phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler. Brooks has long denied knowing about the hacking. When the Dowler hacking case became public in 2011, the outcry in Britain was so great that Murdoch shut down the 168-year-old paper.
"Throughout the relevant period, what Mr. Coulson knew Mrs. Brooks knew, and what Mrs. Brooks knew Mr. Coulson knew," Edis said.
Edis said a February 2004 letter showed there was "absolute confidence between the two of them in relation to all the problems at their work."
Edis said the letter appeared to have been written by Brooks in response to Coulson's attempt to end the relationship. It is not clear whether it was ever sent.
Before disclosing the affair, Edis said News of the World journalists, with consent from top editors, colluded to hack the phones of politicians, royalty and even rival reporters in a "frenzy" to get scoops.
He said the "dog-eat-dog" environment led to routine lawbreaking that was sanctioned by those in charge of the Murdoch-owned tabloid: editors Brooks and Coulson.