Verdict Reached in UK Phone Hacking

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By Peter Wilkinson


LONDON (CNN) — Former newspaper editor Andy Coulson was found guilty Tuesday of conspiracy to hack phones following an eight-month trial in London, the UK’s Press Association news agency reported.

However, another of Rupert Murdoch’s former newspaper chiefs, Rebekah Brooks, was cleared at the Old Bailey of all charges, the news agency said.

Brooks reportedly was overcome by emotion in the courtroom as the verdicts were read out. She left the Old Bailey accompanied by her husband, Charlie Brooks, but did not stop to speak to the waiting media.

The verdict came three years after it was revealed that journalists on News of the World hacked the phone of then-missing teenager Milly Dowler in 2002, raising hopes that she was alive and checking messages, when in fact she had been murdered.

The resulting public and political outrage led to the closure of the 168-year-old paper and the setting up of a public inquiry to examine journalistic ethics.

At the time the schoolgirl’s voice mail was intercepted, Brooks was editor of Britain’s top-selling News of the World, and Coulson was her deputy. After Coulson succeeded her as editor, Brooks edited The Sun newspaper, and she later became chief executive of the parent company, News International.

Coulson resigned as News of the World editor in 2007 after its then-royal editor, Clive Goodman, and a private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, were jailed for hacking into voice-mail messages left for royal aides. Coulson denied any wrongdoing and later became UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s director of communications. The former editor resigned from his Downing Street position in 2011 as coverage of the phone-hacking scandal broadened.

Brooks resigned as News International CEO in July 2011 amid public anger over hacking allegations, and police arrested her the following week.

Brooks and Coulson were charged in 2012, together with five other journalists, with conspiracy to intercept the voice mails of high-profile figures in Britain. All seven denied wrongdoing.

Brooks also faced, along with her husband, Charlie, and her former personal assistant, Cheryl Carter, two charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. All three were cleared of those charges, the Press Association reported.

The jury is still considering additional charges against Coulson and Goodman of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office, the news agency said.

Cameron, who has faced questions over his judgment in hiring Coulson, told the House of Commons on Tuesday that he took “responsibility” for his aide’s recruitment to the Downing Street team, the Press Association reported.

“With 20/20 hindsight — and all that has followed — I would not have offered him the job and I expect that he wouldn’t have taken it,” Cameron is quoted as saying.

“On the work he did, I will repeat, perhaps not for the last time, that his work at Downing Street has not been the subject of any serious complaint.”

Clandestine affair

During the trial, the jury heard how a private detective working for the tabloid allegedly made more than 6,000 hacking calls in a two-year period. The Metropolitan Police estimate there were more than 1,000 victims, including royalty, politicians and celebrities. The phone of Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge and wife of Prince William, was hacked 155 times, it was revealed at the trial.

In November, prosecutors alleged that Coulson had a clandestine affair with Brooks from 1998-2004, which they argued showed the pair’s level of trust.

Referring to a letter she had written to Coulson and that was produced in court, Brooks said: “Andy and I were incredibly close at the time. He was my best friend. I think that comes across.” She denied there had been a long-standing affair but acknowledged there had been periods of physical intimacy.

The BBC and Guardian newspaper reported that when Coulson testified in April — with his wife watching from the public gallery — he said the affair “shouldn’t have happened.”

But he denied that it meant he and Brooks had shared sensitive stories, the outlets said.

In her defense, Brooks denied in court that she had ever approved phone hacking while she was News of the World editor. Asked about the practice, Brooks said: “No desk editor, no journalist ever came to me and said, ‘We’re working on such and such story, and we need to access their voice mails.’ ”

She told the court she would have felt it was “a serious breach of somebody’s privacy, especially if you did not have an overwhelming public interest,” and of the newspaper industry’s code of conduct.

™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

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