No final verdicts as jury discharged in Andy Coulson phone hacking trial

Rebekah Brooks, former News International chief executive, and ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson.

Story highlights

  • "I hope this will give some comfort to the many victims," says senior police officer
  • Jury discharged after failing to reach final verdicts against Andy Coulson and ex-royal editor
  • Court to decide Monday if there will be a retrial on remaining charges
  • Judge criticizes Prime Minister, other politicians for commenting on case after partial verdicts

The jury in the phone hacking trial of former newspaper editor and ex-Downing Street communications chief Andy Coulson has been discharged after it could not reach a verdict on the final charges in the case, a court official said Wednesday.

Former News of the World editor Coulson was convicted Tuesday of conspiracy to hack phones between 2000 and 2006.

But the jury was not able to reach a decision Wednesday on two charges each of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office against Coulson and the paper's former royal editor, Clive Goodman.

The court said that a decision on a retrial for these charges would be made Monday.

Another of Rupert Murdoch's former newspaper chiefs, Rebekah Brooks, was unanimously cleared of all charges Tuesday after the eight-month trial at the Old Bailey court.

Shortly before the jury was discharged, the judge in the case, John Saunders, issued an unusual rebuke to Prime Minister David Cameron and "a large number of politicians from all parties" for commenting on the case after the partial verdicts Tuesday.

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"I consider that what has happened is unsatisfactory so far as justice and the rule of law are concerned," Saunders said in his ruling.

"The press in court have been extremely responsible in their reporting of this case but when politicians regard it as open season, one cannot expect the press to remain silent."

The ruling followed an application for the jury to be discharged on the basis that it was no longer possible for Coulson and Goodman to have a fair trial because of those comments.

But the judge said he had decided not to discharge the jury on those grounds. "I am satisfied that the jury will continue to try Mr. Coulson and Mr. Goodman on the evidence that they have heard in court and solely on that evidence," he said.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister's office said that Cameron had taken the "best legal advice" before giving a statement Tuesday.

Cameron: 'Wrong decision'

Speaking before the House of Commons on Wednesday, Cameron repeated the apology he'd made a day earlier for hiring Coulson as his director of communications in 2007.

"I am sorry, this was the wrong decision, but I think it's right that we've had a public inquiry in this country, and it's right that we have proper investigations," he said. "Yesterday once again showed that no one is above the law in our country."

Public and political outrage over the hacking revelations led to the closure of the 168-year-old News of the World paper and the setting up of a public inquiry to examine journalistic ethics, known as the Leveson Inquiry, as well as a police investigation.

In a statement Wednesday, Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner who oversaw the investigation, said it had been "complex and challenging" -- and that officers involved had been aware of the "sensitivities" of investigating a national newspaper and confidential journalistic material.

"This investigation has never been about an attack on press freedom but one to establish whether any criminal offenses had been committed, to establish who was responsible for committing them and to bring them to justice. The victims deserved no less," she said.

"Along with the verdicts, I hope this will give some comfort to the many victims that justice has been served."

The Metropolitan Police investigation into phone hacking, which was launched in January 2011 and dubbed Operation Weeting, identified 5,500 victims. Of those, 3,500 have been contacted, a police statement said.

The investigation involved sifting through millions of e-mails, tens of thousands of documents, other data communications and financial transactions, it said.

Murdered schoolgirl

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

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 -- now known as News UK.

Coulson resigned as News of the World editor in 2007 after its then-royal editor, 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 Cameron's director of communications. The former editor resigned from his Downing Street position in 2011 as coverage of the phone hacking scandal broadened.

'Wrongdoing occurred'

Besides a charge of conspiracy to hack voice mails, Brooks also was accused of conspiring to pervert the course of justice, as was her husband, Charlie Brooks, and her former personal assistant, Cheryl Carter.

All three were cleared of those charges, the Press Association reported, as was former News International head of security Mark Hanna.

Retired managing editor Stuart Kuttner was cleared of conspiracy to hack phones.

Five people pleaded guilty to phone hacking charges before the case came to trial, the police said. They were Mulcaire, Neville Thurlbeck, Greg Miskiw, James Weatherup and Daniel Evans.

News UK, the UK newspaper publishing arm of Murdoch's News Corp., said in a statement: "We said long ago, and repeat today, that wrongdoing occurred, and we apologized for it. We have been paying compensation to those affected and have cooperated with investigations."

The publisher said it was making changes to ensure this kind of wrongdoing did not recur and that it supported a new UK press watchdog expected to start work later this year.

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