UK & World News

  • 26 June 2014, 2:03

Hacking Trial Jury Discharged On Final Charges

Jurors who failed to reach verdicts on four final charges in the phone-hacking trial have been discharged by a judge who criticised the Prime Minister for comments that could have caused the case to collapse.

Andy Coulson, the former Number 10 spin doctor, and the ex-News Of The World (NOTW) royal editor Clive Goodman had been accused of conspiring to commit misconduct in public office by paying police officers for two royal phone directories.

But after sitting through eight months of evidence at the Old Bailey, the jury could not reach even a majority verdict and were discharged.

It means stinging criticism of David Cameron can now be reported for the first time.

The judge, Mr Justice Saunders, said he was "very concerned" about comments the Prime Minister made while the jury was still deliberating.

"What has happened is unsatisfactory so far as justice and the rule of law are concerned," he said.

The move to discharge the jury comes after Coulson was found guilty of plotting to hack phones between 2000 and 2006 while working at the NOTW.

The scandal, which cost the 46-year-old his job as the Prime Minister's communications director and led to the closure of his former newspaper, involved a list of high-profile targets, including Kate Middleton and Prince William, actor Daniel Craig and murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

His former colleague Rebekah Brooks and her husband Charlie Brooks were cleared of the charges they faced.

Shortly after those verdicts were delivered, Mr Cameron led the way in what the judge called "open season" by apologising for hiring Coulson in 2007.

Sky's Home Affairs Correspondent Mark White, at the Old Bailey, said: "Those comments were very prejudicial, suggesting Coulson had been dishonest.

"There was a move by the legal counsel for Coulson and Goodman to have those remaining counts thrown out ... because they felt the jury wouldn't be able to reach fair conclusions.

"However, in essence, that argument is a moot point for the moment because the jury hasn't been able to reach verdicts."

At a heated Prime Minister's Questions, Labour leader Ed Miliband accused Mr Cameron of "wilful negligence" by "bringing a criminal into Downing Street".

His opposite number replied with regular references to the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics, saying the report "made no criticism of my conduct".

The judge praised jurors for their "enormous patience and tolerance" and said they shown "exceptional" dedication.

A decision on whether to hold a retrial will be made next week, with sentencing possible on Friday.

Coulson faces up to two years in prison.

Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick, of the Metropolitan Police, which launched Operation Weeting to investigate phone hacking at the NOTW, said: "Throughout the investigation, we've done our best to follow the evidence without fear or favour.

"We were conscious of the sensitivities and legal complexities of investigating a national newspaper containing confidential journalistic material.

"This investigation has never been about an attack on press freedom but to establish whether any criminal offences had been committed."