The acquittal of a former News Corp. tabloid editor of phone hacking brings to an end almost a decade of scandal and probes at the company’s U.K. unit.
Neil Wallis, deputy editor of the now-defunct News of the World, was cleared by a London jury Wednesday, just days before the fourth anniversary of when the controversy was reignited by the discovery that journalists at the newspaper hacked into the phone of a murdered school girl.
“Four years after I was arrested, I finally walk out of here a free man,” Wallis, who is the last journalist to face hacking charges, told reporters outside of court Wednesday.
News Corp.’s U.K. publishing unit in 2011 was battered by allegations of wrongdoing, which sparked criminal and judicial probes into the press. News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch closed the News of the World, then the country’s largest newspaper, in a bid to contain the scandal.
Andy Coulson, former aide to U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and an editor of the tabloid, was the only journalist to be convicted of hacking by a jury. Seven others pleaded guilty to the charges.
“This is the culmination of a political drive by the police” and prosecutors, Wallis said. “It’s a disgrace.”
The highest-profile defendant, Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive officer of News Corp.’s U.K. unit, was acquitted by a jury last year.
Another 29 journalists were charged in a related probe of bribes paid to public officials that was triggered by the initial phone-hacking allegations at News Corp. Only one reporter was convicted.
A News Corp. spokeswoman in London didn’t immediately comment on the Wallis verdict.
Almost 10 years have passed since private investigator Glenn Mulcaire and reporter Clive Goodman were jailed for hacking phones belonging to the royal family. Millions of pounds have been spent on bringing the prosecutions to open court where the lurid details of tabloid life were debated by lawyers.
“It’s reassuring to know that the jury system works, and it is satisfying that senior journalists have now been educated, sadly in a cruel way, over the harshness of the delays and stresses of the criminal justice system,” Mark Lewis, a lawyer who represented the family of murdered school girl Milly Dowler, said in an e-mail.
“Ultimately, the journalists must look at News Corp., and how it threw its employees to the wolves to protect itself.”
The total cost of the police investigation into phone hacking was 21 million pounds ($33 million) as of May 21, according to the Metropolitan Police Service.