Hacking scandal not over, despite verdicts

The verdicts in the London phone hacking trial are not the end of the scandal, with reports of British Prime Minister being chided for putting the trial in jeopardy and police seeking to interview News Corp chief executive Rupert Murdoch.

Former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks was acquitted of all charges over phone hacking on Tuesday, while her successor as editor of News of the World, Andy Coulson, was found guilty on the main charges.

The jury considering lesser charges against Coulson has been dismissed after failing to reach a verdict. The additional charges include one of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office by paying police officers for two directories containing phone numbers of members of the royal family.

AFP reports prosecutors are expected to announce on Monday whether he will face a retrial.

Mr Cameron was criticised by trial judge Justice John Saunders for comments he made after the main verdicts during an apology to parliament over having hired Coulson as his communications chief.  “Knowing what I now know . . . it was obviously wrong of me to employ him. I gave someone a second chance. It turned out to be a bad decision,” he said.

Justice Saunders queried whether the comments made by the Prime Minister were deliberate or made in ignorance. Regardless, they had potential to lead to the trial being aborted because the jury was still deliberating on the lesser charges, he said.

The Guardian reports that Mr Murdoch had been officially informed by Scotland Yard that detectives wished to interview him under caution, following an investigation into his personal knowledge of payments to police and other public officials by his journalists. Police were also considering whether to interview his son, James, a former executive chairman of News International.

The verdicts against Brooks and Coulson came at the end of an eight-month trial and a scandal that prompted a judicial public inquiry into the culture and ethics of the British press.

Allegations of a culture of phone hacking as a method of unearthing stories unfolded in 2011 at the tabloid News of the World, owned News International, a division of Mr Murdoch’s News Corp. The paper was closed that year and Brooks and Coulson were accused of authorising the hacking by former NoW deputy editor Paul McMullan.

Victims ranged from the kidnapped teenager Milly Dowler, who was later found dead, to celebrities and politicians including Kate Middleton, Hugh Grant and British home secretary Charles Clarke.

Brooks was arrested in July 2011, and was later charged with taking part in the paper’s phone hacking practices, covering up evidence and bribing public officials for information. She joined NoW in 1989 as a researcher and became head of News International just over 20 years later.

According to The New York Times, prosecutors presented the trial with phone data that confirmed widespread hacking between 2003 and 2007, when Coulson was editor of the News of the World, while there was “far less” evidence of the practices under Brooks’ reign from 2000 to 2003.

One major exception was the hacking of Milly Dowler in 2002. On that occasion, Brooks was on holiday, leaving Coulson, her deputy, in charge.

A key aspect of the prosecution case hinged on the fact that Brooks and Coulson were in a romantic relationship, and that she therefore must have been aware – but the jury was apparently not convinced.

Former NoW managing editor Stuart Kuttner was also acquitted, along with Brooks’ husband Charlie, her secretary Cheryl Carter and News International head of security Mark Hanna, who were each charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

Rupert Murdoch described appearing before a House of Commons committee in 2011 as “the most humble day of my life.”

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