Ben Ashford, a reporter at the Sun until 2010, has been charged with possession of criminal property and unauthorized access to computer material, prosecutors told The Guardian Monday.
The charges stem from an incident in 2009 when Ashford was given what prosecutors said he knew to be a stolen cellphone by a woman who claimed she found the phone but knew who it belonged to. The woman gave Ashford the phone and told him to read the text messages.
Prosecutors said Ashford held onto the phone for five days before turning it over to the police.
The Guardian, citing an unnamed friend of Ashford, described the now-freelance journalist as "baffled" by the charges -- and that he plans to fight them in court.
Ashford is the first of 21 people arrested in the British media phone-hacking scandal, which ultimately led to the closure of the News Corp.-owned News of the World in 2011, to face criminal prosecution. Two of those arrested have been told they will not face prosecution and 18 others are out on bail in the investigation, Operation Tuleta.