25 Jun 2014

Judge tells off Cameron for talking too soon on Coulson

Jurors fail to reach verdicts on two remaining charges facing the PM’s former spin doctor Andy Coulson and ex-NoW royal editor Clive Goodman, as the phone-hacking judge tells off politicians.

The jury in the phone-hacking trial has been discharged after failing to reach agreement on whether Andy Coulson, David Cameron’s former media adviser, was guilty of authorising illegal payments.

Coulson, who had edited Rupert Murdoch’s now-defunct News of the World tabloid, was on Tuesday found guilty of conspiring to hack into phones, and is due to be sentenced next week.

He and ex-News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman had also been accused of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office by paying police officers for two royal directories. But the jurors were discharged after failing to reach a verdict during nine days of deliberation.

It can now be reported that the judge was heavily critical of David Cameron and other politicians for commenting on his former spin doctor Andy Coulson’s conviction for phone hacking, while the jury was still deliberating. The judge said that the phone hacking trial almost collapsed in its final stages as a result.

Trial judge Mr Justice Saunders said he was “very concerned” that David Cameron said he was “extremely sorry” for employing Coulson after the verdicts on phone-hacking were announced on Tuesday, but while the last two verdicts remained outstanding.

Mr Justice Saunders said “I consider that what has happened is unsatisfactory so far as justice and the rule of law are concerned. The press in court have been extremely responsible in their reporting of this case, but when politicians regard it as open season, one cannot expect the press to remain silent.”

The judge will consider the possibility of a re-trial over these two remaining charges of illegal payments, next Monday.

There was more criticism of Mr Cameron during prime minister’s question time, when Ed Miliband accused him of “wilful negligence” by ignoring warnings about Mr Coulson.

“The Prime Minister will always be remembered as being the first ever occupant of his office who brought a criminal into the heart of Downing Street”, Mr Miliband told the Commons.

However Mr Cameron insisted that he had been cleared of any wrongdoing by the Leveson Inquiry, which had considered all the issues around Mr Coulson’s employment.

Read Gary Gibbon's blog: Did Cameron turn a blind eye to Coulson?

In answer to further questioning, Mr Cameron said the decision not to subject Mr Coulson to a higher level of security vetting had been taken by the civil service, in accordance with correct procedures.