As David Cameron’s former communications chief Andy Coulson is sentenced to 18 months in prison for conspiracy to intercept voicemail messages, the prime minister says “no-one is above the law”.
The verdict and sentencing at the Old Bailey follows an eight-month trial in which former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, her husband Charlie and several others were acquitted.
Coulson, who edited the News of the World before working for Mr Cameron, was sentenced alongside Greg Miskiw, James Weatherup, Neville Thurlbeck, Glenn Mulcaire, and Dan Evans, who have admitted or been found guilty of charges relating to the various investigations into phone hacking and public misconduct.
Coulson, a 46-year-old father of three, also faces the prospect of a potential retrial on two other counts of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office, after the initial trial jury were discharged on 25 June when they failed to reach verdicts.
After Mr Coulson was sentenced, Mr Cameron said: “What it says is that it is right that justice should be done and no-one is above the law, which is what I have always said.”
The judge, Mr Justice Saunders, said: “Mr Coulson has to take the major shame for the blame of phone hacking at the News of the World. He knew about it, he encouraged it when he should have stopped it.”
He said Coulson clearly thought it was necessary to use phone hacking to maintain the newspaper’s “competitive edge”, adding that the delay in the newspaper telling police about the Milly Dowler voicemail in 2002 showed the motivation was to “take credit for finding her” and sell the maximum number of newspapers.
Miskiw and Thurlbeck were sentenced to six months, with Weatherup receiving a four-month suspended sentence and ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid community work. Mulcaire also has to fulfil 200 hours’ work and received a six-month suspended sentence.
Mr Justice Saunders said: “All the defendants that I have to sentence, save for Mr Mulcaire are 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. Those achievements will now count for nothing. I accept that their reputations and their careers are irreparably damaged.”
Weatherup and Mulcaire, who is a private investigator rather than a journalist, declined to comment as they left the court.
Just approached James Weatherup outside court asking whether he’d be making any statement. He did a zip gesture across his lips.
— Andy Davies (@adavies4) July 4, 2014
Mulcaire, who was paid around half a million pounds by the NoW, was first convicted of phone hacking with royal reporter Clive Goodman in 2006.
Following the renewed police investigation into the full extent of hacking, he admitted three more counts of conspiring to hack phones plus a fourth count of hacking the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler in 2002 – an act which eventually led to the closure of the NoW in 2011.
While Coulson was in charge, the NoW was hacking a host of royals, celebrities, politicians and ordinary members of the public on an industrial scale amid intense competition for exclusive stories, the trial heard.
Prosecutor Andrew Edis QC said the Sunday tabloid was “utterly corrupt” and “became a thoroughly criminal enterprise”. The list of victims whose private lives were invaded read like a “Who’s Who of Britain in the first five years of the century”, he said.
In mitigation, Coulson’s lawyer Timothy Langdale QC said at the time, no one in the newspaper industry realised phone hacking was illegal and the company lawyers did not tell him. But Mr Justice Saunders said: “I do not accept that ignorance of the law provides any mitigation.”