LONDON (AFP) - Andy Coulson, the former media chief of British Prime Minister David Cameron, appeared in court on Thursday charged with phone hacking while he was editor of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid. Coulson, 44, appeared alongside six other employees of the now defunct newspaper at a brief preliminary hearing at London’s Westminster Magistrates Court. He stood in the dock with the tabloid’s ex-managing editor Stuart Kuttner, former news editor Greg Miskiw, former head of news Ian Edmondson, ex-chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck, former reporter James Weatherup, and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.

The seven face charges of conspiring to unlawfully intercept the voicemail messages of some 600 people, including Hollywood stars Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Jude Law as well as politicians and crime victims.

Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of Murdoch’s British newspaper wing, will appear at the same magistrates’ court on September 3 to answer hacking charges.

The seven accused spoke only to confirm their names and addresses and were told they would have to appear at a higher court, Southwark Crown Court, on September 26.

They were released on bail on the condition that they lived at given addresses, did not contact each other, and gave the police a week’s notice if they wish to go abroad.

Australian-born media tycoon Murdoch, 81, was forced to close the News of the World in July 2011 amid a storm of allegations that its staff hacked into the voicemail messages of a murdered schoolgirl and a slew of public figures.

Coulson edited the newspaper from 2003 to 2007 and went to become Cameron’s spokesman, but resigned in January 2011 after he was questioned over the scandal. He was arrested in July last year.

He is accused of accessing the voicemails of murdered teenager Milly Dowler, former interior ministers David Blunkett and Charles Clarke and reality TV celebrity Calum Best, the son of footballer George Best.