UK & World News
Coulson 'Didn't Know Phone Hacking Was Illegal'
Former News Of The World (NOTW) editor Andy Coulson was never told phone hacking was illegal during his time at the now-defunct tabloid, a court has heard.
The ex-Number 10 spin doctor - who faces up to two years in prison after being found guilty of conspiring to intercept voicemails - has blamed lawyers for not telling him it was an offence in a bid to avoid the harshest jail sentence.
In mitigation, his lawyer Timothy Langdale QC said: "Despite the seriousness, the facts of the case do not justify the maximum penalty."
Mr Langdale told the Old Bailey it was clear from the trial that Coulson was not alone in not knowing phone hacking was illegal.
"There are some features of this sorry affair which must be mentioned because they are capable of having, we submit should have, a mitigating effect on any sentence," he said.
"Perhaps the most salient factor of the evidence is that no one at the NOTW or the newspaper industry at large in 2000/06 realised that interception of voicemail messages was illegal, in the sense of criminal."
The NOTW's own legal department, whom Coulson consulted frequently, never advised him that it was a crime, the court was told.
Mr Langdale accepted that hacking was widespread when Coulson was editor between 2003 and 2006, but rejected the prosecution statement that the newspaper "became a thoroughly criminal enterprise" during that time.
After he left, Coulson went on to be a "trustworthy and straightforward" director of communications for Prime Minister David Cameron, Mr Langdale said.
He continued: "Because of his role after he left the NOTW, because of the wider background to the wider investigation, Mr Coulson has become something of a lightning conductor for the political aspect."
He said the "media furore" immediately after his conviction demonstrated this vividly, but Mr Langdale maintained Coulson was still a "thoroughly decent" man.
Prosecutor Andrew Edis QC disputed Mr Langdale's assertion that Coulson was unaware of the illegality of phone hacking.
Evidence showed Coulson knew hacking was illegal from the summer of 2004, around the time he heard of the David Blunkett voicemail to Kimberly Quinn, Mr Edis said.
Coulson, from Charing in Kent, will be sentenced on Friday alongside three of his former colleagues and private detective Glenn Mulcaire, who all admitted their part in the phone hacking plot last year.
The prosecution has also asked for costs totalling £750,000 be paid following the trial.
NOTW news editor Greg Miskiw, 64, from Leeds; chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck, 52, of Esher, Surrey; and James Weatherup, 58, of Brentwood in Essex have all admitted one general count of conspiring together and with others to illegally access voicemails between October 2000 and August 2006.
Mulcaire, 43, from Sutton in south London, was first convicted of phone hacking with NOTW royal reporter Clive Goodman in 2006 and served a prison sentence.
Following a renewed police investigation he admitted three more counts of conspiring to hack phones plus a fourth count of hacking the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
Coulson's co-defendants Rebekah Brooks and managing editor Stuart Kuttner denied any wrongdoing and were cleared of all charges.