Rebekah Brooks, a former Rupert Murdoch executive and friend of Prime Minister David Cameron, appeared in a London court on Monday accused of conspiring to hack the phones of a murdered schoolgirl and hundreds of other high-profile victims.
The former editor of Murdoch's now-closed News of the World tabloid quit as chief executive of his British newspaper arm last year in a scandal that raised questions about the links between Britain's media, politicians and police.
Brooks, 44, instantly recognisable with her mane of long, curly red hair, spoke to confirm her name and address and her understanding of the charges against her at the brief hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court in central London.
Brooks and six other former News of the World staff are charged with conspiring to illegally intercept voicemail messages on the mobile phones of more than 600 people between October 2000 and August 2006.
Prosecutors have also charged Brooks with conspiring to hack the phone of 13-year-old Milly Dowler, a missing schoolgirl later found murdered, and ex-trade union leader Andrew Gilchrist.
Brooks has denied either authorising or being aware of phone hacking and promised to "vigorously defend" herself against the allegations.
It was public outrage over the disclosure that Dowler's phone had been hacked that led to Murdoch shutting the 168-year-old News of the World in July last year.
Prosecutors say Brooks and her co-accused illegally accessed voicemail messages left on the mobile phones of celebrities, sports stars and politicians in order to obtain exclusive stories.
Her fellow defendants from the newspaper and a private detective who also faces hacking charges appeared in the court last month and, with Brooks, are due to return for a further hearing at Southwark Crown Court in south London on September 26.
Brooks remains on bail with the conditions that she should not contact co-defendants nor travel abroad without notifying police.
The News of the World's involvement in phone hacking first emerged in 2005 when aides to Britain's royal family realised that their voicemails had been intercepted after private stories appeared in the tabloid.
After a now much-criticised police investigation, the paper's royal correspondent and a private detective were jailed.
Following those convictions, Murdoch's British newspaper unit News International maintained for years that only a single "rogue" reporter was to blame.
However, police launched a fresh investigation in January last year that led to the current charges.