London jurors were unable to reach a verdict on bribery charges against former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, a day after convicting him of phone hacking.
Judge John Saunders dismissed the jurors today after they said they couldn’t make a decision. Prosecutors will decide by the start of next week whether to refile the case on the remaining charges against both Coulson, 46, and Clive Goodman, another former News Corp. (NWSA) journalist who faced related bribery charges.
Five other defendants, including Rebekah Brooks, the former head of News Corp.’s U.K. unit, were cleared by the jury yesterday in a case that was triggered by one of the biggest scandals in U.K. media history. News Corp. shut the News of the World in 2011 after revelations that journalists hacked the phone of a murdered schoolgirl.
Coulson will be sentenced next week for phone-hacking at a hearing starting on June 30. The jury failed to make a final decision on charges that Coulson and Goodman, 56, conspired to pay police for royal-palace telephone directories.
The decision to dismiss the jury followed a frantic 24 hours after the initial verdicts convicted Coulson of phone hacking and cleared most of the other defendants.
Prime Minister David Cameron was criticized by Saunders for apologizing for hiring Coulson as a media adviser shortly after Goodman and a private detective were sentenced to jail in the first phone-hacking trial in 2007.
Lawyers for Coulson said the premier’s comments while the jurors were still deliberating harmed their client’s ability to get a fair trial.
Saunders quoted Cameron’s office as saying the prime minister made the comments because of the extreme public interest in the case.
“I accept that that was the prime minister’s intention but I am afraid that to an extent his explanation misses the point,” Saunders said. “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.”
The phone-hacking trial took nearly eight months and featured testimony about affairs between Brooks and Coulson, celebrity gossip and the private lives of the royal family.
“Go and continue the rest of your lives, with my thanks, the court’s thanks, and the country’s thanks,” Saunders said to the jury. “The country owes you a great debt of gratitude.”
The investigations into hacking, bribery and obstruction of justice have cost 32.7 million pounds ($55.5 million), the Metropolitan Police Service said in a statement today.
“This investigation has never been about an attack on press freedom but one to establish whether any criminal offenses had been committed,” said Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick, who oversaw the probes. “Five people have already pleaded guilty to serious criminal offenses before this trial.”
At their height, the probes had close to 200 police and staff working on the investigations.
The end of this trial doesn’t spell the end of News Corp.’s problems in British courts. More of the company’s journalists are scheduled to go to trial in October for allegedly paying bribes to public officials.
The company could also face corporate charges related to phone hacking, prosecutors said several times during the trial when jurors were outside the courtroom. The judge said the possible prosecution of the company was the reason News Corp.’s U.K. unit decided to cut back on its cooperation with police last year.
The criminal trial, which was originally estimated to last three months, was hampered by delays, with the court not in session with the jury on about 30 working days.
“The cost of this trial is astronomic,” Saunders said in April. “I have got a jury who are desperately keen to get on with it.”
The delays were frequent. Goodman, who underwent a heart procedure in December, became ill in March in the middle of his testimony and spent weeks in the hospital. The judge juggled evidence from other witnesses and let the prosecution begin their closing arguments while waiting for Goodman to return.
The “delay, expense and inconvenience,” of a trial is a “nightmarish prospect both to the public purse and of any, or all of this to be gone through again,” Andrew Edis, the lead prosecutor, said in early May.
At that point, it was still unclear whether Goodman, who’s evidence was crucial to Coulson’s case, would return as lawyers argued for days about the merits of leaving him in the trial or letting him go.
“We have a jury who are losing patience and they have every right to do so,” Saunders told the lawyers. “Get me Mr. Goodman back.”
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