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British newspaper editor sentenced for phone hacking scandal

July 4, 2014 at 6:45 PM EDT
A British court sentenced the former editor of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid to 18 months in jail for his role in a phone hacking scandal. The practice of reporters hacking into the cellphones of private individuals in search of news became widespread under Coulson’s editorship. Andy Davies of Independent Television News reports.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: A British court sentenced the former editor of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid to 18 months in jail today for his role in the so-called phone hacking scandal. Andrew Coulson also later served as a key adviser to British Prime Minister David Cameron.

It was under Coulson’s editorship that the practice of reporters hacking into the cell phones of private individuals looking for news became widespread. One of the phones hacked belonged to a 13-year-old kidnapped schoolgirl who was later found dead.

We have a report from Andy Davies of Independent Television News.

ANDY DAVIES, ITN: In a story about power and privacy, Andy Coulson has precious little of either right now.

Once at the helm of Britain’s biggest-selling paper, once at the side of a prime minister, the 46-year-old buttoned up his jacket, turned briefly for the cameras, and walked into court for the inevitable.

Neville Thurlbeck, his former award-winning chief reporter, had perhaps hoped for a suspended sentence. He pleaded guilty to hacking before the trial began. But he was jailed too, along with Greg Miskiw, another veteran News of the World man who turned up alone, his shoe laces undone, pulling along his suitcase, preparing for the worst.

Like Thurlbeck, he was jailed for six months. Both are unlikely to serve more than three. The only two to walk in and walk back out, former news desk editor James Weatherup, and the paper’s erstwhile private investigator and hacker in chief Glenn Mulcaire. Their sentences were suspended.

This final act at the end of this dramatic eight-month trial played out before a packed court number 12. I counted around 130 people crammed into that courtroom. There were lawyers and detectives who had worked on the case standing at the back by the door. There were some jurors who returned witness it all, relatives looking on from the public gallery. And there, in the glass-paneled dock, this once formidable unit of tabloid journalists with their highly paid private investigator took their seats.

And for the first time, they were flanked by security guards. And then Mr. Justice Saunders began. He spoke of the many thousands of phone hacks they’d been responsible for, some of intensely personal messages.

Rights to individual privacy counted for little during this time, he said. They wanted stories and showed little concern for how they got them. The defendants, other than Mulcaire, he said, were distinguished journalists, who had no need to behave as they did to be successful. They all achieved a great deal without resorting to the unlawful invasion of other people’s privacy. But, he added, those achievements will now count for nothing.

As Andy Coulson was led from the dock down to the cells, he turned and glanced briefly up at the public gallery. Brief, too, was the comment offered by his old boss, David Cameron, who last week apologized for hiring him.

DAVID CAMERON, Prime Minister, United Kingdom: Well, what it says is that it’s right that justice should be done and that no one is above the law, as I have always said.

ANDY DAVIES: Today, the judge said Coulson, who had fought the allegations for so long, had to take the major share of the blame for the phone hacking. He knew about it and encouraged it, when he should have stopped it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Five other defendants, including Rebekah Brooks, another former editor at the paper, were acquitted last week.