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British PM sorry after ex-aide guilty in phone-hacking trial

AFP , Tuesday 24 Jun 2014
Rebekah Brooks and wife
Rebekah Brooks, former News International chief executive, left, accompanied by her husband Charlie Brooks, leaves the Central Criminal Court in London, Tuesday, June 24, 2014. (AP Photo)
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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 sombre 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 her 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 extra-marital 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 centred 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.

During the trial Brooks's lawyers argued that there was "no smoking gun" to link her to the phone hacking and that the evidence was "circumstantial".

Brooks's 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 the 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 judgement 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 honoured that on 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 Rebekah 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 UK -- 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 a boycott by advertisers just over three years ago after it emerged that the paper had hacked the voicemails of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

The paper was later found to have hacked a long list of public figures including Prince William, the second-in-line to the British throne, his wife Kate Middleton, and celebrities including former Beatle Paul McCartney and actor Jude Law.

The hacking scandal prompted a judge-led inquiry into the ethics of Britain's famously aggressive press, which made recommendations for reforming the way it is governed. They are yet to be put into force.

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