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Saturday 30 August 2014

£100m hacking trial ends with Brooks walking free

Martin Evans

Published 25/06/2014 | 02:30

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Rebekah Brooks, former News International chief executive, left, accompanied by her husband Charlie Brooks, leaves the Central Criminal Court in London, Tuesday, June 24, 2014. Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson was convicted of phone hacking Tuesday, but fellow editor Rebekah Brooks was acquitted after a monthslong trial centering on illegal activity at the heart of Rupert Murdoch's newspaper empire. A jury at London's Old Bailey unanimously found Coulson, the former spin doctor of British Prime Minister David Cameron, guilty of conspiring to intercept communications. Brooks was acquitted of that charge and of counts of bribing officials and obstructing police. The nearly eight-month trial was triggered by revelations that for years the News of the World used illegal eavesdropping to get stories, listening in on the voicemails of celebrities, politicians and even crime victims. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks and her husband Charlie leave the Old Bailey in London after their acquittal. AP
Andy Coulson

The phone hacking trial, one of the most expensive prosecutions and most lengthy police inquiries in British criminal history, yesterday saw its main protagonist walk free from court after being cleared of all charges.

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Rebekah Brooks and four other defendants – her husband and former members of her staff – were cleared after an Old Bailey trial that lasted 138 days and is expected to cost up to €100m (€125m).

The former editor of the 'News of the World' and 'The Sun' was acquitted of conspiracy to hack phones, conspiracy to corrupt public officials and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

Her husband, Charlie Brooks, and her former personal assistant, Cheryl Carter, were also found not guilty of the charges against them, as were Stuart Kuttner, the 'News of the World's former managing editor, and Mark Hanna, News International's former head of security.

But her former deputy, Andy Coulson, who edited the 'News of the World' between 2003 and 2007, was found guilty of one charge of conspiracy to hack voicemails.

The jury was unable to reach verdicts on two outstanding charges alleging that Coulson and Clive Goodman, the tabloid's former royal editor, bribed a Buckingham Palace police officer to access two royal telephone directories.

The jury will return to the Old Bailey today to continue its deliberations on those charges.

Despite the acquittals, the police investigation showed no sign of abating last night with detectives reportedly planning to interview Rupert Murdoch, the News Corporation chairman, and his son James as suspects.

It was reported that detectives contacted both Mr Murdochs last year to inform them that they wished to question them under caution about alleged illegal activities at their British newspapers.

After Coulson's conviction yesterday, British Prime Minister David Cameron apologised for hiring the former tabloid editor as his director of communications. He said that bringing Coulson into Downing Street was the "wrong decision".

Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, said that Mr Cameron had "brought a criminal into the heart of Downing Street" and his government was "tainted" as a result.

Following the statements, the trial judge, Mr Justice Saunders, reminded politicians that the jury was still considering some verdicts and urged restraint in commenting on the case while it was still ongoing.

The furore over phone hacking began when allegations emerged that staff at the 'News of the World' had hacked into the voicemails of Milly Dowler, the murdered schoolgirl.

Last night her parents said they were pleased that the case had led to a debate about press ethics. Their lawyer, Mark Lewis, said: "Robert and Sally are not celebrating the conviction of Andy Coulson or commiserating the acquittals.

"What they are very pleased about is that a proper debate has started about the role of the press and an investigation into its practices."

He added: "They are pleased that the intimate relationship between various parties in the press and the world of politics and the police has been exposed. They did not know about that before these trials and nor did a lot of other people."

Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, who has oversight of the Metropolitan Police, said: "I'm pleased for Rebekah and Charlie Brooks that they have both been acquitted and that justice has taken its course in the case of the other defendants.

"Phone hacking was, and is, a disgraceful method of journalism, and it is right that the culprits should pay a heavy price for their behaviour."

The scandal gave way to one of the biggest police investigations in Scotland Yard's history. Almost 150 detectives were drafted in to work full-time on the three inquiries which were opened in the wake of the phone hacking allegations.

At its height, Operation Weeting, which was set up to look specifically at voicemail interception at the 'News of the World' had 72 full-time officers working on the case and 16 police staff. Operation Elveden, which was charged with examining corruption between journalists and public officials, had 60 officers. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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