Coulson to be sentenced in hacking case

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Associated Press

Andy Coulson arrives at the Central Criminal Court in London. Picture: Lefteris Pitarakis

London -

Andy Coulson, a former top aide to British Prime Minister David Cameron, faces jail on Friday when he is sentenced for his role in the phone-hacking scandal that brought down Rupert Murdoch's News of the World tabloid.

Four ex-colleagues of the former newspaper editor will also be sentenced by a judge at London's Old Bailey court over the industrial-scale hacking of the voicemails of thousands of people including royals, celebrities and politicians.

They all face up to two years in jail under British law.

The sentencing will revive an embarrassing issue for Cameron, who was forced to make a public apology after Coulson was found guilty on June 24 following a marathon eight-month trial.

It also puts the spotlight back on News Corp tycoon Murdoch, who shut down the News of the World in disgrace in July 2011 after it emerged the tabloid had hacked the voicemails of a murdered schoolgirl.

Rebekah Brooks, the former head of Murdoch's British newspaper arm and editor of the News of the World from 2000 to 2003, was dramatically cleared of all charges at the same trial, along with her husband and three other people.

Coulson, 46 - who was editor of the News of the World from 2003 to 2007 and then Cameron's communications chief until his resignation in 2011 - was convicted of one count of conspiring with others to illegally access voicemails.

The others being sentenced on Friday are former News of the World news editor Greg Miskiw, chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck, journalist James Weatherup, and private detective Glenn Mulcaire.

They have all pleaded guilty to conspiring to hack phones.

During mitigation hearings this week ahead of the sentencing, Coulson blamed lawyers at the tabloid for failing to tell him that phone-hacking was illegal.

“Despite the seriousness, the facts of the case do not justify the maximum penalty,” his current lawyer Timothy Langdale told the court.

“No one at the News of the World or the newspaper industry at large in 2000-06 realised that interception of voicemail messages was illegal.”

The prosecution has asked for £750 000 in legal costs from Coulson and the others.

The trial itself ranged from the scandalous to the arcane, hearing evidence that Brooks and Coulson had an extra-marital affair before delving into months of hearings on the workings of the newspaper.

Brooks said last week that she felt “vindicated” and that her thoughts were with colleagues still facing legal action.

But the verdicts heaped embarrassment on Cameron.

He admitted it was the “wrong decision” to take on Coulson, although he denied ignoring warnings about the journalist's activities at the News of the World.

Cameron was then rebuked by the judge for speaking out about the case, one of the most expensive in British criminal history, before it was finished.

Coulson and the tabloid's former royal editor Clive Goodman face a retrial on charges of paying a police officer for royal telephone directories, after the jury in the original trial failed to reach a verdict. - Sapa-AFP


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