(From left) David Cameron, Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks
London, June 24: A former editor of the News of the World — a Sunday newspaper which used to specialise in “kiss and tell stories” involving celebrities — was today found guilty of “phone hacking” at the Old Bailey and faces the prospect of being sent to jail.
After Andy Coulson left the News of the World, he was hired by David Cameron to be his main press adviser. However, to be fair to Coulson, he has not yet done the dirty on Cameron by writing a book about the Prime Minister’s inadequacies.
That might yet come after Coulson, now 46, has served a spell in prison.
Coulson showed no immediate reaction to the guilty verdict which came on the 138th day of the trial. He stood in the dock with his hands behind his back and clenched his jaw before taking a deep breath. The jury — eight men and three women — took eight days to reach their decision.
When questions were asked about whether Coulson was fit to be the chief press officer at 10, Downing Street, Cameron was initially extremely loyal to the man he regarded as a close friend.
However, Cameron today was quick to issue a grovelling apology for bringing Coulson into the heart of government.
“I take full responsibility for employing Andy Coulson,” said Cameron. “I did so on the basis of undertakings I was given by him about phone hacking and those turned out not to be the case. I always said that if they turned out to be wrong, I would make a full and frank apology and I do that today. I am extremely sorry that I employed him. It was the wrong decision and I am very clear about that.”
Coulson quit as Cameron’s press adviser in January 2011.
Chancellor George Osborne, who was the one who recommended the appointment, issued a separate apology: “We gave him a second chance but, knowing what we now know, it’s clear that we made the wrong decision.”
As was also the case with Tony Blair and his director of communications, Alistair Campbell, the job of the Prime Minister’s head of press is a powerful one.
In fact, Campbell was considered the de facto deputy Prime Minister.
Coulson was not quite as influential but when he was editing the News of the World, he employed detectives, notably one Glenn Mulcaire, at vast expense to hack into the phones of celebrities in order to get exclusive stories. However, one story that did not make the News of the World was that for nine years, Coulson, a married father of three, was sleeping with a senior colleague. He had no need to grope young girls in lifts – he went for the top.
Coulson was having an affair with Rebekah Brooks, a former editor of the paper herself and later promoted to chief executive of Rupert Murdoch’s News International. The affair lasted nine years. As an act of damage control, Murdoch shut down the News of the World even though it once had a circulation of over five million and was hugely profitable.
Brooks, 46, was cleared of all charges today but she has had the most personal aspects of her life revealed in court.
In one email she poured out her heart to Coulson: “The fact is you are my very best friend. I tell you everything, I confide in you, I seek your advice, I love you, care about you, worry about you. We laugh and cry together... in fact without our relationship in my life, I am really not sure how I will cope.”
Brooks was the editor when Mulcaire got his first annual contract with the paper for £92,000 in 2001. And she was still in charge in 2002 when he hacked the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler — an act which led to the eventual closure of the Sunday tabloid.
Even though she was on holiday in Dubai at the time, the prosecution said her on-off love affair with her deputy Coulson meant they shared such confidences. Retired managing editor Stuart Kuttner, 74, was also cleared of being part of the hacking conspiracy dating back to 2000 and spanning six years.
Brooks’s former personal assistant Cheryl Carter, 50, of Chelmsford, Essex, was cleared of perverting the course of justice by removing seven boxes from the News International archive just days before she was arrested in 2011. The racehorse trainer, Charlie Brooks, 52, of Churchill, Oxfordshire — he is Rebekah Brooks’s current husband — and News International head of security Mark Hanna, 51, were cleared of perverting the course of justice around the time of police searches in July 2011.
The jury is still considering further charges against Coulson and former royal editor Clive Goodman of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office by paying police officers for two royal directories. Coulson and Goodman, 56, deny the charges.
The detail which has emerged from the trial could easily fill 20 thick encyclopaedias. A host of politicians, sports people, celebrities, and members of the royal family were targeted by NoW staff and Mulcaire. They included Sven-Goran Eriksson, who was having an affair with a Bangladeshi secretary at the Football Association, Faria Alam.
Actor Jude Law’s girlfriend Sienna Miller was also targeted, as was James Bond actor Daniel Craig who left a message for supermodel Kate Moss: “I love you, I love you, I love you.” Then Kate Middleton, before her marriage to Prince William, was hacked 155 times, and the latter 35 times and Prince Harry nine times.
Max Clifford, the publicist, now in jail for sexually abusing young girls, was a target, as was the supermodel Elle MacPherson.Labour home secretary David Blunkett’s affair with married Spectator publisher Kimberly Quinn came to light through Mulcaire’s hacking in 2004. Quinn was alleged to have had a fling with an Indian newspaper editor but the story was untrue.
Boris Johnson, mayor of London, said today: “Phone hacking was and is a disgraceful method of journalism, and it is right that the culprits should pay a heavy price for their behaviour.” The Labour leader Ed Miliband said that Cameron’s apology did not go far enough, and that the Prime Minister had “very serious questions to answer” about why he stuck by Coulson long after serious allegations about him had become public.
Cameron had “brought a criminal into the heart of Downing Street” and his government was “tainted” as a result, said Miliband, who accused the Prime Minister of putting his relationship with press tycoon and News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch ahead of the public interest. The News of the World, if truth be told, is much missed. Its working class readers were led to believe that the top people in Britain were “doing it”.
And footballers, according to their usually willing kiss & tell conquests, could invariably manage it “five times during our night of passion”, even after 90 minutes of not all scoring on the football pitch.