1. Andy Coulson, the former editor of the News of the World and David Cameron’s former chief press secretary has been sentenced to 18 months in jail for conspiring to hack mobile phones.
Coulson, 46, and from Essex, was handed the sentence this morning at the Old Bailey at the conclusion of the phone hacking trial. The maximum sentence could have been two years but his pervious good character earned him a lesser sentence.
This isn’t the end of it for Coulson however: he still faces a re-trial on charges that he paid for private phone directories from royal households, along with his former colleague, royal editor Clive Goodman.
Five other defendants in this trial, including Rebekah Brooks, were found not guilty of all charges.
2. Four other former News of the World employees, who pleaded guilty, were sentenced today:
- Glenn Mulcaire (pictured), 43, the professional phone hacker, who was convicted of hacking in 2007 was given a suspended six-month sentence. When handing him the sentence, the judge told Mulcaire: “You are truly the lucky one”.
- Neville Thurlbeck, 52, former chief reporter was sentenced to six months in jail.
- Greg Miskiw, 64, former news editor was sentenced to six months in jail.
- James Weatherup, former news editor was was handed a four-month suspended sentence.
These four got their sentences reduced by a third for pleading guilty.
Dan Evans, a former News of the World reporter is to be sentenced separately.
3. Before handing down the sentences, the hacking trial judge, Mr Justice Saunders, gave some scathing comments on the defendants’ conduct at the News of the World.
the judge pointed out that this wasn’t just about celebrities, mentioning that News of the World journalists hacking the phone of Laura Rooney, who simply shared a name with the footballer, Wayne.
He went on to say that doctors and people working in clinics were targeted. He said that intensely personal messages “becoming front page exclusives… creating an undercurrent of mistrust among family and friends”.
However, he added that rich and famous people were afforded the exact same legal protection from such intrusion.
All the defendants knew their actions were contrary to the Press Complaints Commission Editors’ Code, “and knew it was morally wrong,” he said. “Not only is ignorance of the law no defence, it provides little mitigation.”
On the Milly Dowler case – the hacking of the murdered schoolgirl’s mobile phone started the entire process that led to this trial – Mr Justice Saunders called the News of the World’s delay in telling police what they learned from listening to her voicemail “unforgiveable”.
“Their true motivation was not to act in the best interests of the child … but to sell newspapers,” he said.
But the judge, in a canny analysis of the tabloid market in the last decade, said that phone hacking wasn’t the source of all News of the World’s journalism but something that was used “to maintain their competitive edge”.
In his comments, the judge admitted that prior to having their professional reputations destroyed, the defendants were “distinguished journalists who achieved a great deal without resorting to phone hacking”.
4. The judge said the sentences took into account the damage to the victims of hacking and acknowledged that they won’t be stringent enough for some.
7. The court this morning was packed, for what was the conclusion to perhaps the most expensive and long-running criminal trials Britain has ever seen.
9. There was, as ever, a media scrum outside the Old Bailey waiting for the defendants to arrive.
10. The jury have lived this trial for eight months and have been exempted from any jury service for the rest of theit lives – some still turned up today to hear the conclusion.
11. Here are excerpts from the the judge’s remarks from the sentencing this morning:
I take into account the effect on those whose phones were hacked and those whose messages were intercepted; what the Defendants got out of their crimes and all proper matters of mitigation. I also have to do justice between Defendants.
To assist me in that, I consider previous relevant decisions of the court so that, as far as possible, there is consistency in sentencing. I then pass what it is the least possible sentence which properly reflects those factors.
I have set all this out because I have no doubt that there will comments about the sentences that I pass.
There will be those who will be outraged that I haven’t passed sentences well in excess of the permitted maximum and there will be those that think that it shouldn’t be a crime for the press to intrude into the lives of the famous and that the legislation and this prosecution is in some way an attack on the freedom of the press to carry out their vital role as public watchdogs.
People are perfectly entitled to comment. All I can ask is that the comment is informed and recognises the parameters which govern my role as the sentencer.
12. He laid out the full extent of hacking at the paper in the 2000s.
Targets of phone hacking were politicians, celebrities, and royalty. In addition there were people who were targeted simply because they were friends of, worked with, or were related to famous people. The voicemail of Helen Asprey, who was the personal assistant to Prince William and Prince Harry, was hacked hundreds of times; the phone of Hannah Pawlby, who worked in Charles Clarke’s office when he was Home Secretary, was hacked to try and get evidence to support a false rumour that she was having an affair with Charles Clarke.
Laura Rooney’s phone was hacked because she shared a name with a famous footballer. These are just a small number of examples. So it is a mistake to believe that the only people whose phones were hacked or whose messages were intercepted were people in the public eye who courted publicity.
Phone hacking is a time consuming occupation and many hours were no doubt spent by Mulcaire and by reporters listening to messages which did not provide any leads for stories. They did however pick up intensely personal messages, some but not all of which were about relationships.
Other personal material included messages left by doctors’ surgeries and clinics which the recipients were entitled to expect would remain private. As a result of intercepting thousands of messages, the News of the World discovered information about famous and powerful people which ended up as front page exclusives and caused serious upset and distress to the subjects and to those close to them. An additional consequence was that, as nobody knew how the News of the World had got the stories, an undercurrent of distrust developed between friends and family who suspected each other of selling the information.
13. The judge has no time for the argument made by some tabloid journalists that celebrities are “fair game”.
It is true that some celebrities attempted to use the press to put themselves in the best possible light while putting others in the worst possible light. It is also true that some people who were discovered to be having inappropriate sexual relationships with other people made money out of telling their stories. They responded to inducements from the News of the World that, as the story was coming out anyway, they might as well sell their account and be portrayed sympathetically. There were people close to celebrities, and even members of their families, who were prepared to supply information to the News of the World, sometimes for money.
None of this justified phone hacking. The law’s protection is given to the rich, famous and powerful as it is to all. Some commentators believe that invading the privacy of the famous by accessing their voicemail messages should be permissible. They are entitled to their view but it is not the law, and while the law remains as it is, the courts have a duty to provide the same protection to all citizens.
14. He was in no doubt that Andy Coulson was responsible for an increase in phone hacking at this time in charge of the paper and did little to stop it.
Mr. Coulson, on the jury’s verdict, has to take the major share of the blame for the phone hacking at the News of the World. There is insufficient evidence to conclude that he started the phone hacking but there is ample evidence that it increased enormously while he was the editor. On the jury’s verdict he knew about it and encouraged it when he should have stopped it. It was his reputation as an editor and journalist which was increased through the stories that were obtained by phone hacking and, even though he resigned, he did so with his reputation intact. News International decided it was appropriate to make a substantial severance payment to him.
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