LONDON: British Prime Minister David Cameron’s former media chief Andy Coulson was convicted of phone hacking Tuesday but one-time Rupert Murdoch aide Rebekah Brooks was acquitted in a dramatic end to the News of the World trial.
Cameron issued a somber televised apology for hiring Coulson, showing how toxic the scandal remains nearly three years after News Corp boss Murdoch was forced to shut down the Sunday tabloid in disgrace.
The jury at the Old Bailey court in London delivered their verdicts after eight days of deliberations and nearly eight months of detailed evidence in what had been dubbed the “trial of the century.”
An emotional Brooks had to be supported by a court nurse after the flame-haired former head of Murdoch’s British newspaper wing was acquitted of conspiring to intercept voicemails and of plotting to bribe officials for stories.
But Coulson, her former lover and successor as editor of News of the World, faces jail following his conviction for phone hacking. The jury is still considering further charges against him and the paper’s then-royal editor, Clive Goodman.
Brooks and Coulson, both 46, had an on-off extramarital affair for several years while working at the paper, a further taste of scandal that only emerged at the start of the trial.
The case centered on News of the World’s efforts to hack the phones of Britain’s royal family, politicians, celebrities and victims of crime, including a murdered schoolgirl and families of people killed in the July 7, 2005, London bombings.
In the trial, Brooks’ lawyers argued there was “no smoking gun” to link her to the phone hacking and the evidence was “circumstantial.”
Brooks’ current husband Charlie, a racehorse trainer, and News International director of security Mark Hanna were also cleared of perverting the course of justice by allegedly trying to hide evidence from police.
Her former personal assistant Cheryl Carter was cleared of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. The paper’s retired managing editor Stuart Kuttner was also cleared of conspiracy to hack phones.
The scandal raised questions about the judgment of Cameron in hiring Coulson, who resigned as editor of the News of the World in 2007 after a journalist and private investigator were convicted of phone hacking.
Cameron had promised in Parliament when the scandal first broke three years ago that he would make an apology if Coulson was found guilty, and he honored that Tuesday, saying he had given Coulson a “second chance.”
“It was a second chance, it turns out to be a bad decision, and I’m extremely sorry about that,” Cameron said.
“Employing someone when they gave false assurances was the wrong decision. I’m profoundly sorry about that.”
Opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband said Cameron had “brought a criminal into the heart of Downing Street.”
Cameron was also a close friend of Brooks, admitting that he had once been horse riding with her, while Murdoch’s papers swung behind Cameron’s Conservatives before Britain’s last general election in 2010.
Brooks quit as head of News International, the former British newspaper wing of Murdoch’s media empire. She had risen from being a secretary at the company to edit the News of the World and then went on to become one of Murdoch’s top aides.
The company – now rebranded News U.K. – said it had “made changes in the way we do business to help ensure wrongdoing like this does not occur again.”
Murdoch shut down the News of the World in disgrace and amid a boycott by advertisers just over three years ago after it emerged that the paper had hacked the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.