News Corp. Won’t Face Corporate Charges Over Phone Hackingby
Prosecutors' decision ends four years of scandals at U.K. unit
Andy Coulson convicted of phone hacking by jury last year
News Corp. won’t face charges over phone hacking, bringing to a close more than four years of scandals and probes at the company’s U.K. unit.
The Crown Prosecution Service said Friday there was no evidence that anyone on the board knew about the interception of voice-mail messages. The decision comes almost a year and a half after the former editor of its largest U.K. newspaper was convicted of intercepting voice-mail messages.
News Corp.’s U.K. publishing unit was battered in 2011 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 biggest-selling newspaper, and scuttled a planned takeover of what was then known as British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc in a bid to contain the scandal.
“Phone hacking has come to a conclusion without any repercussions for any of these acts,” said Alex De Groote, a media analyst at Peel Hunt in London. “The storm erupted two-to-three years ago and now it’s petered out.”
Prosecutors also said they would drop investigations into 10 journalists at the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror, rival tabloids owned by Trinity Mirror Plc. Piers Morgan, a former top Mirror editor who went on to host a nightly CNN talk show, said on Twitter the decision validated his statements that he had never hacked a phone nor told anyone to do so.
“I’m now going to get spectacularly drunk,” Morgan said on Twitter. “Happy Christmas.”
Andy Coulson, a former aide to U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and an editor of the tabloid, was the only News Corp. journalist convicted of hacking by a jury. At least seven others pleaded guilty to the charges.
The scandal was largely triggered by the discovery in July 2011 that journalists at the News of the World in 2002 had hacked into the phone of a missing teenager, Milly Dowler, who was later found murdered. Even before that, however, police had opened probes that would eventually lead to the arrest of dozens of journalists at News Corp. publications for intercepting voice mails and bribing public officials.
The saga reached a crescendo last year when jurors convicted Coulson on a single count, but cleared Rebekah Brooks and four others of all charges related to phone hacking, bribery and destruction of evidence. Brooks, a former editor of the Sun and News of the World newspapers, was the chief executive officer of News Corp.’s U.K. unit when the Dowler allegations were made.
The company has been working to move past the allegations in recent months, re-installing Brooks, one of the key figures in the scandal, as News Corp.’s top U.K. executive.
News UK said in a statement that the prosecutors’ decision allows it to focus on journalism.
“Long ago, we apologized for the conduct that occurred, immediately took steps to pay compensation to those affected, and updated and instituted substantial reforms in our business to ensure our governance is second to none,” the company said in a statement. “Following a thorough and exhaustive investigation, and after many long trials, inquiries and proceedings, this matter has been concluded and the right decision has been taken.”
The possibility of corporate charges was discussed several times at the 8-month trial that ending in June 2014, with Judge John Saunders at one point saying the possible prosecution of the company was the reason behind News Corp.’s U.K. unit cutting back on its cooperation with police investigations.