July 4 (Bloomberg) -- Andy Coulson, the former editor of News Corp.’s News of the World, was sentenced to 18 months in prison today for conspiring to hack the phones of celebrities, the royal family and politicians.
Judge John Saunders said the 46-year-old Coulson, who is also a former aide to U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, should take the “major share” of the blame for the interception of voice-mail messages at the now-defunct tabloid. Two other journalists were jailed for six months while another two men were given suspended sentences.
“There is a certain irony in seeing men who pride themselves on being distinguished investigative journalists, who have shed light in dark corners and forced others to reveal the truth, being unprepared to do the same for their own profession,” Saunders said at a hearing in London today.
The sentencing comes three years to the day after News Corp. and the tabloid found themselves at the center of a global scandal triggered by revelations that journalists listened to messages on the phone of a murdered schoolgirl. While Coulson was the only person convicted at an eight-month trial, the other men all pleaded guilty before the trial started.
Neville Thurlbeck, the 52-year-old former chief reporter at the weekly tabloid, was sentenced to six months today along with a former news editor, Greg Miskiw, 54.
Glenn Mulcaire, the 43-year-old private eye at the heart of phone-hacking allegations since 2006, was spared jail by the judge, having already served time for voice-mail interception in 2007. James Weatherup, 58, another ex-news editor at the News of the World, also escaped a prison term.
The jury last month acquitted the former head of News Corp.’s U.K. unit, Rebekah Brooks, of charges relating to hacking and bribery. Her husband, Charlie, and three other current and former News Corp. employees were also cleared.
Coulson, who didn’t react to the sentencing, “has to take the major share of the blame for the phone hacking,” Saunders said. “He knew about it and encouraged it when he should have stopped it.”
News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch closed the News of the World, the country’s best-selling newspaper, in 2011 in a bid to temper public outrage over the hacking of the phone of Milly Dowler, the murdered schoolgirl.
Saunders said the paper hacked Dowler’s phone in 2002 as part of an effort to take credit for finding her and sell “the maximum number of newspapers.”
“The editor wanted to make sure that it was his paper that got the stories which would create the biggest headlines and sell the most newspapers and he, and others at the newspaper, were prepared to use illegal means to do that,” Saunders said.
Coulson and the former News of the World royal reporter, Clive Goodman, will be retried on bribery charges after the jury failed to reach verdicts following more than 40 hours of deliberations.
“Coulson has become something of a lightning conductor for the political aspects of this investigation,” Timothy Langdale, Coulson’s lawyer, said during a mitigation hearing July 1.
Cameron, who issued an apology last month for hiring Coulson as his media adviser, today said that the due process of the law had been followed.
“What it says is it’s right that justice should be done and no one is above the law, as I’ve always said,” the premier said in televised comments during a visit to Scotland today.
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