Former Rupert Murdoch confidante Rebekah Brooks has been cleared of all charges while British Prime Minister David Cameron’s one-time media chief Andy Coulson was convicted of phone hacking in a dramatic end to the News of the World trial.
The jury on Tuesday delivered their verdicts after eight days of deliberations and nearly eight months of evidence sparked by the scandal that led to News Corp boss Murdoch shutting down the Sunday tabloid in disgrace in July 2011.
Cameron swiftly gave a “full and frank apology” for hiring Coulson as his communications director despite knowing that the former News of the World editor had resigned from the paper when the hacking saga first emerged.
At the close of what had been dubbed the “trial of the century”, an emotional Brooks, 46, had to be supported by a court nurse after being acquitted of conspiring to intercept voicemails and of plotting to bribe officials for stories.
But while the flame-haired Brooks walked free from the London court, Coulson, her former lover, faces jail following his conviction.
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.
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 judgment of Cameron in hiring Coulson, 46, who resigned as editor of the News of the World in 2007 after a journalist and private investigator were convicted of phone hacking.
Cameron made a televised statement apologising after the verdict, in line with a promise he made in parliament when the scandal first broke three years ago.
“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.”
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 a firestorm of disgrace 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.