Brooks cleared of bribery charge in British hacking trial

LONDON - Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of the News of the World and the Sun tabloids, was found not guilty Thursday of approving a payment to a public official for a photo of Prince William.

Brooks, who rose to become chief executive of News International, Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper division, still faces four other charges in the trial, including for phone hacking.

After three and a half months of prosecution argument at the Old Bailey court in London, Brooks was due to begin her defence case on Thursday.

But before she took the stand, Judge John Saunders instructed the jury to formally acquit the 45-year-old of one charge of misconduct in public office.

Brooks was accused of sanctioning a payment of £4,000 (S$8432.76) to a public official for a picture of Prince William, the second in line to the throne, dressed as a bikini-clad Bond girl at a party at the army training school Sandhurst.

The image was never published but led to a story in the Sun, the Murdoch-owned daily which Brooks edited between 2003 and 2006, with the headline "Willy in a Bikini" together with a mocked-up picture of the prince in a green swimsuit.

"I have decided that there is no case for Ms Brooks to answer on count four. That is the charge relating to a picture of Prince William in a bikini," said the judge.

Brooks smiled as the foreman of the jury recorded a not guilty verdict as directed, although she is still on trial on four other charges.

She is accused of one count of conspiring to hack phones, two counts of conspiring to pervert the course of justice by concealing evidence, and one count of conspiring to commit misconduct in public office - namely paying an official for information.

There are six other defendants on trial, including her deputy at the News of the World and successor as editor, Andy Coulson, who is accused of phone hacking and paying officials for stories.