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HindustanTimes Sat,20 Sep 2014

World

Coulson guilty in UK phone-hacking case, Brooks not
Prasun Sonwalkar, Hindustan Times
London, June 24, 2014
First Published: 16:47 IST(24/6/2014)
Last Updated: 00:01 IST(25/6/2014)

The phone-hacking scandal that gripped Britain's press, politics and the public for the last seven years partly reached a conclusion on Tuesday.

Rebekah Brooks, the former boss of Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper arm, was acquitted of orchestrating a campaign to hack into phones and bribe officials. A jury at London's Old Bailey court cleared Brooks unanimously but found Andy Coulson - her former lover and Prime Minister David Cameron's ex-media chief - guilty of conspiring to intercept messages to break news about royalty, celebrities and victims of crime.

Later, PM Cameron apologised for hiring Andy Coulson as his key aide.

Coulson, a former editor of the now defunct News of the World, was hired by Cameron as his communication director first as the leader of the opposition in 2007 and then in 10 Downing Street after he became the prime minister after the May 2010 elections. He resigned in 2011.

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As Labour leader Ed Miliband flayed Cameron for bringing "a criminal into the heart of Downing Street", Cameron said, "I am extremely sorry I employed him. It was the wrong decision", and added that he took full responsibility for employing Coulson. An embarrassed Cameron said in a statement about hiring Coulson, "I did so on the basis of undertakings I was given by him about phone hacking and those turn out not be the case. I always said if they turned out to be wrong, I would make a full and frank apology and I do that today. I am extremely sorry that I employed him. It was the wrong decision."

Asked what checks he had made before employing Coulson, he said, "I asked him questions, if he knew about phone hacking, and he said he didn't and I accepted those assurances and I gave him the job".

As Coulson faced jail after being pronounced guilty of conspiring to hack phones for information to be used in sensational stories in the tabloid, the court exonerated Brooks.

The phone-hacking revelations since 2007 had led to a series of inquiries - including the televised Leveson Inquiry - and some changes in the practices and ethics of the press and the ways in which the British police deals with journalists.

There were dramatic scenes outside the Old Bailey court as Brooks was close to tears when she and her husband Charlie Brooks, who was also cleared, left the dock.

Coulson stood emotionless as he absorbed the guilty verdict.

Both Coulson and Brooks were former editors of the News of the World, the 168-year-old tabloid Murdoch closed in July 2011 amid a public outcry over revelations that journalists had hacked into the voicemails of hundreds of people.  

Brooks's lawyer Jonathan Laidlaw had argued the prosecution failed to produce a "smoking gun" during her 14 days of intense questioning on the stand. He likened the authorities' decision to take her to court to a mediaeval witch hunt.

Some verdicts on others involved in the controversy are yet to be delivered in court.


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