A London High Court Judge lashed against British Prime Minister David Cameron for his sub judicial statement against former co-editor controversial News of the World tabloid who later served Press Secretary to Prime Minister till January 2011, when the Conservative Party formed a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats in May 2010..
The Telegraph story:
Andy Coulson judge criticises David Cameron: full statement
Here is the full statement made by Mr Justice Saunders as he criticised the Prime Minister for commenting on the Andy Coulson case while the jury was still considering outstanding verdicts
6:55PM BST 25 Jun 2014
Application has been made to me to discharge this jury on the basis that it is no longer possible for Andrew Coulson and Clive Goodman to have a fair trial on the remaining two counts that the jury are considering. The application is based on the publicity last night and this morning following the verdicts delivered yesterday on count 1. Immediately after the verdict the PM issued a statement apologising for employing Mr. Coulson. That statement has been followed by pronouncements by a large number of politicians from all parties. I have not considered and will not consider anything that has been said in Parliament as that is covered by parliamentary privilege and is the sole prerogative of Parliament.
I asked for an explanation from the Prime Minister as to why he had issued his statement while the jury were still considering verdicts. I received a response from his principal private secretary which said ‘the Prime Minister was responding to the guilty verdict on hacking charges that had been delivered in open court. He did this in the light of the intense media coverage and understandable public interest. The Prime Minister was careful to make no further comment about any matters that might still be before the court.’
I accept that that was the Prime Minister’s intention but I am afraid that to an extent his explanation misses the point. He has now told the public and therefore the jury that he was given assurances by Mr. Coulson before he employed him which turned out to be untrue. The jury were not aware of that before and it is a matter which is capable of affecting Mr. Coulson’s credibility in their eyes. Mr. Coulson’s credibility is a matter which is in issue on the final two charges that the jury have to consider.
Other politicians have chosen to comment about Mr. Coulson and as a result the jury have heard of matters which were not admitted at the trial for legal reasons. I am certainly not seeking or intending to single out the Prime Minister. Politicians from across the political spectrum have seen fit to make strong comments about Mr. Coulson despite the fact that the jury are still deliberating. The Chairman of the parliamentary committee which investigated phone hacking has told the public that Mr. Coulson lied to them in the evidence that he gave.
Evidence of what Mr. Coulson said before the committee could not be given in court as it would amount to a breach of parliamentary privilege. That was the view of parliamentary counsel which was conveyed to the court and which I accepted. Again that information is capable of affecting the jury’s view of Mr. Coulson’s credibility.Mr. Langdale who made powerful and well argued submissions to me relies on the public importance of those who made the comments and the increased likelihood therefore of the jury being influenced by them. This was a significant factor in the court of appeal’s decision in the case of McCann and as he says, while the decision is an old one, the principle has not changed.
My sole concern is to ensure that justice is done. Politicians have other imperatives and I understand that. Whether the political imperative was such that statements could not await all the verdicts, I leave to others to judge. The issue for me now is to decide whether I am satisfied that Mr. Coulson will receive a fair trial on the other two counts or whether the prejudice is such that that is impossible.
I have been referred to the decision of the administrative court in contempt proceedings brought against parts of the media following the partial verdicts in the case of Levi Belfield. I am satisfied that the revelations in those reports were considerably more prejudicial to the fair trial of Belfield on the remaining counts than is the case here.
The decision in this application is entirely fact specific. Not merely is it fact specific but it is also specific to this jury who we all have been watching at work for eight months. First this jury have shown that they are entirely capable of putting out of their minds prejudicial material in reaching their decisions. At the start of this trial I heard two days of submissions on behalf of Rebekah Brooks to the effect that there was so much prejudicial material about her in the public domain that the jury would inevitably convict her and it was impossible for her to have a fair trial. She has been acquitted of all the charges against her. I trust that no one will maintain that complaint now. Everyone who has watched the jury have been impressed with their dedication and their ability to concentrate on the evidence and follow directions of law. Our legal system is based on the premise that juries comply with directions of law given by the Judge.
We should not forget the stage of the case that we have reached. The jury at the moment are deep into an analytical discussion of the evidence on counts 2 and 3 and have been for sometime. I am fortified in that belief by consideration of the notes that I have received from them. There is no reason to suppose that they will be diverted from that course. We underrate juries, and particularly this one, at our peril. It should also be born in mind that by virtue of the verdict that the jury have already returned, they are sure that Andrew Coulson has lied to them about his involvement in phone hacking. Therefore, while important public figures in defence of their own position or to attack another’s have revealed other lies told by Andrew Coulson, those revelations will have less effect on the jury.
I watched a fair amount of the news coverage last night in anticipation of this application. I have considered other material which has been referred to me. As I have made clear, I have also considered the cases of AG – v- Associated Newspapers and R – v- McCann.
I have decided that the jury should not be discharged as I am satisfied that the jury will continue to try Mr. Coulson and Mr. Goodman on the evidence that they have heard in court and solely on that evidence. That does not mean that I am not concerned about what has happened in this case. 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. I accept that this case is very unusual if not unique, but the situation could occur again and I would urge that discussions take place to try and set up a better system of dealing with it.
I have considered whether, in the light of what has happened, I was correct to take partial verdicts. I am fortified in what I did by the fact that no counsel has suggested I was wrong even with the benefit of hindsight and by the fact that what I did accords entirely with the Practice Direction which lays down the procedure for taking verdicts and emphasises the necessity for the same procedure to be followed by all Judges.
Opposition Leader Ed Milliband had a field day in the House of Commons taking pot shots against Prime Minister Cameron for “Bringing a criminal into No. 1o Downing street”.
The Guardian story:
Andy Coulson, the criminal who had David Cameron’s confidence
Former No 10 spin doctor is found guilty of hacking charge while Rebekah Brooks is cleared of all counts
Lisa O’Carroll and Patrick Wintour
The Guardian, Tuesday 24 June 2014 21.32 BST
Andy Coulson, the former No 10 spin doctor, leaves the Old Bailey on Tuesday after being found guilty of conspiring to hack phones. Photograph: Will Oliver/EPA
Seven years of deceit by David Cameron’s former director of communications were undone in the Old Bailey on Tuesday, when a jury found Andy Coulson guilty of conspiring to hack into phone messages.
The verdict came at the end of an extraordinary eight-month trial that also saw Coulson’s predecessor as editor of the News of the World, Rebekah Brooks, found not guilty of phone hacking and three other charges. Her husband, Charlie, her former PA and a security guard were also found not guilty of the single charges they faced, as was the paper’s former managing editor.
But the jury’s decision in Coulson’s case prompted Cameron to make a rapid and unreserved apology – while Ed Miliband countered that the verdict demonstrated that “a criminal” had been brought into “the heart of Downing Street”.
The prime minister said he regretted his decision to employ Coulson first as communications director at the Conservative party in 2007, shortly after he left the News of the World after one “rogue reporter” from the tabloid had been jailed over hacking, and take him with him to Downing Street from 2010.
In a statement, Cameron said: “I take full responsibility for employing Andy Coulson. 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.”
Nevertheless, questions remain about the personal judgment of Cameron and whether he put his desire to be close to Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers before a dispassionate judgment of whether it was likely that Coulson as News of the World editor had no knowledge of phone hacking to gather sensational stories.
Miliband was fierce in his criticism of Cameron’s attitude and his refusal to heed multiple “monthly warnings” from 2009, when the Guardian first reported that phone hacking at the News of the World may have been widespread.
Miliband said: “David Cameron has very, very serious questions to answer … we now know he put his relationship with Rupert Murdoch ahead of doing the right thing when it came to Andy Coulson.
“This was not small or accidental mistake. He stuck with Andy Coulson for a long period of time – it was not as if there was not information out there to arouse his suspicions. He was warned by the deputy prime minister, he saw front page stories in newspapers, he was warned by newspaper editors and still he refused to act”
No 10 recognises Cameron faces a few difficult days but believes his error will cause little long-term political damage. The man who recommended hiring Coulson in the spring of 2007, the chancellor, George Osborne, added: “We gave him a second chance but, knowing what we now know, it’s clear that we made the wrong decision.”
There were dramatic scenes outside the court as Brooks and her racehorse trainer husband, Charlie, who was also cleared, left the dock. Coulson stood emotionless as he absorbed the news. Looking faint and close to tears, Brooks walked with the support of the court’s matron and her solicitor Angus McBride.
The Brookses made no comment on the verdicts and left the Old Bailey to be confronted by a phalanx of photographers, TV crews and members of the public as she was shepherded to a waiting taxi. Asked if she had a comment to make, Brooks’s solicitor Angus McBride said she couldn’t say anything because the trial was ongoing, with verdicts still to be reached in charges faced by Coulson and the News of the World’s former royal editor Clive Goodman relating to corrupting public officials.
Coulson’s conviction brings the number of people associated with the News of the World convicted of a hacking conspiracy to five.
Before the trial three former newsdesk executives, including Greg Miskiw and James Weatherup, pleaded guilty, as did the phone hacker Glenn Mulcaire and a former reporter, Dan Evans, who confessed to hacking Sienna Miller’s messages on Daniel Craig’s phone.
Neville Thurlbeck, the News of the World’s former chief reporter and news editor, pleaded guilty after the police found the tapes he had of Blunkett’s messages in a News International safe. Sentencing is expected early next week.
The eight-month trial involving seven defendants came about following revelations first reported in the Guardian in 2009 that News of the World had routinely used hacking to get exclusives on celebrities, sports stars, politicians and royals.
Coulson resigned as editor of the paper in January 2007 after the imprisonment of the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire and the paper’s former royal editor Clive Goodman for hacking a limited number of celebrities and royal aides claiming he had to take “ultimate responsibility”. Months later, Cameron in search of a media professional with knowledge of the tabloid newspaper mind hired Coulson after he received assurances from Coulson that Goodman was a rogue.
It was not until Coulson entered the witness box that he dropped the bombshell that not only had he known about the hacking of Blunkett, but he had also listened to tape recordings of the intimate messages the cabinet minister had left on the phone of Kimberly Fortier, the then Spectator publisher. He also admitted lying to Blunkett when he failed to tell him how he knew about the affair when he confronted him at his Sheffield constituency office in August 2004.
Blunkett told the Guardian: “This is clearly not about me. This is about those who never asked to be in the public eye in the first place and who have been subject to the most grievous misreporting, personal misrepresentation and abuse, and now to further public scrutiny, simply because of the actions of people who acted illegally, brought the journalistic profession into disrepute, and put personal success before high standards.”
Born into a council estate in Essex, he became a star showbiz columnist on the Sun and went on to become editor of Britain’s largest selling Sunday newspaper from where he leapfrogged into Downing Street, becoming one of the prime minister’s closest aides.
Brooks’s acquittal will provide some relief for Rupert Murdoch, who once described the woman who rose to be chief executive of his London based News International operation as his “top priority” when the phone-hacking crisis hit the company in the summer of 2011.
Brooks was found not guilty of four charges including conspiring to hack phones when she was editor of the News of the World and making corrupt payments to public officials when she was editor of the Sun. She was also cleared of two charges that she conspired with her former secretary and her husband to conceal evidence from police investigating phone hacking in 2011.
A spokesman for News UK – the British newspaper publishing arm of Murdoch’s media empire – said that they had put in place measures to ensure that the wrongdoing at the News of the World could not happen again.