The News of the World phone hacking trial reached its conclusion this week, with the jury delivering verdicts for the majority of charges. Following a trial which lasted for some eight months, former editor Andy Coulson was found guilty of conspiracy to intercept voicemail messages, in the period between October 2000 and August 2006.
Rebekah Brooks, a former editor of the publication, and Stuart Kuttner, a former managing editor, were cleared of the same charge relating to phone hacking. Mrs Brooks was further cleared of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office. Along with her husband Charlie Brooks, and News International staff Mark Hanna and Cheryl Carter, Mrs Brooks was also cleared of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in relation to alleged destruction or removal of evidence during the Police investigation.
Five individuals had earlier pleaded guilty to phone hacking charges – Glenn Mulcaire, Greg Miskiw, James Weatherup, Dan Evans, and the News of the World’s former chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck. Mr Coulson and these five individuals are due to be sentenced next week, and their pleas in mitigation of sentence are likely to be of considerable public interest.
The jury was unable to reach a verdict in relation to charges of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office, against Mr Coulson and the paper’s former Royal Editor, Clive Goodman, concerning payments allegedly made to police officers in return for personal data, including telephone numbers. Mr Goodman had, in 2007, pleaded guilty in earlier proceedings to a charge of intercepting phone messages, and was sentenced at that time to four months in jail.
The phone hacking scandal, which led to the closure of the News of the World in July 2011, has seen more than 4,000 individuals be identified by Metropolitan Police as potential victims of private detectives employed by the newspaper. The trial itself offered a rare glimpse of activities at the news desks of what was one of the country’s most established tabloids, and included accounts of celebrities, politicians, royalty, in addition to ordinary members of the public, having had their voicemails hacked by employees of the paper.
The case has also prompted a range of related investigations and inquiries, most notably the judicial inquiry led by Lord Justice Leveson which, between 2011 and 2012, examined the culture, practices and ethics of the press, and the extent to which the existing regulatory regime had failed to act on misconduct. The second part of the Leveson Inquiry, which will focus on the extent of unlawful or improper conduct within media organisations including News International – the News of the World’s former parent company – is due to begin following the conclusion of the phone hacking trial, and the related investigations by law enforcement authorities.
A number of civil cases have also been brought by the victims of hacking and other forms of press malpractice, with many such cases having already reached an out of Court settlement.
Although these verdicts mark the conclusion of what has become the longest, and one of most exhaustive criminal trials in English history, the phone hacking scandal has raised questions that will no doubt continue to be asked. Perhaps most importantly, how, if at all, will the saga affect the practices that tabloid journalists employ for years, and indeed generations to come? Will the Press Complaints Commission’s successor, the Independent Press Standards Organisation, have the authority to discourage wrongdoing in future? In an ever more competitive landscape, the press remains under intense pressure to secure the most eye-catching stories. Will the phone hacking scandal be enough to dissuade others from using unlawful means to secure tomorrow’s big scoop?
Carter-Ruck has acted for several individuals in claims relating to phone hacking by the News of the World, securing substantial damages for its clients in doing so.
The firm continues to be consulted by individuals who have had their phones hacked and is also acting for individuals who have been notified by the police, as part of Operation Elveden, that their private information was sold to the press by public officials.
UPDATE: On 4 July 2014, Andy Coulson was jailed for 18 months for the charge of conspiracy to hack phones, with the News of the World’s former chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck and news editor Greg Miskiw each receiving a custodial sentence of six months. Suspended jail sentences were given to former reporter James Weatherup and investigator Glenn Mulcaire, both of whom were also ordered to undertake 200 hours of community service. In delivering the sentences, Mr Justice Saunders noted the “considerable pressure” assumed by Mr Coulson in the job of Editor, but commented that he had been aware of phone hacking during his tenure, and “encouraged it when he should have stopped it”.