Phone-hacking trial: Why was Andy Coulson found guilty?

The trial of former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, the prime minister's former director of communications Andy Coulson and six others began at the Old Bailey on 28 October. The Drum will be in court for the duration of the trial, which is expected to last at least four months, and will provide comprehensive updates on this blog.

The trial is scheduled to examine seven counts that include conspiracy to intercept communications in the course of their transmission, conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office, and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

Coverage will be provided by James Doleman, who was acclaimed for his exhaustive and responsible reporting of the Tommy Sheridan perjury trial.

Andy and his wife Eliose Coulson arrive at court

In the morning there were five defendants present in the long, glass covered dock at court 12 of the Old Bailey. By Tuesday afternoon there was only one.

Andy Coulson, the former News of the World editor, stood alone when the judge entered the room. He was still on trial while Rebekah Brooks and the others were able to leave the building and flash smiles at the waiting photographers.

To those in the court the verdict came as no surprise. Journalists and lawyers have been speculating for weeks about what the outcome of the phone-hacking trial would be, and of the dozens I have spoken to, not one thought Andy Coulson would be found anything but guilty. The former head of communications for Number 10 had a fine legal team, reluctantly paid for by News International after he sued them at the High Court, but it was not enough; the evidence of his involvement in hacking was too much and too strong. "There was a lot of hacking going on," said the prosecution. How could the editor not know?

Unlike the case against Rebekah Brooks, which mainly relied on circumstantial evidence, there was a concrete case against Coulson. Two former News of the World journalists, Dan Evans and Clive Goodman, testified in court that they had discussed intercepting voicemails with him. Coulson's barrister, Timothy Langdale QC, spent days cross-examining Evans and Goodman attempting to paint them as liars and fantasists and self-confessed criminals trying to save their skins by implicating Coulson. It didn't work. Another issue that may have weighed on the jury's mind was the sheer scale of the illegal interception of voicemails that happened under the former editor's watch. By police accounts, over 5000 people had their voicemails illegally listened to between 2003 and 2006. "Industrial scale hacking," as Goodman put it,

In the end though it was the skillful cross-examination by lead prosecutor Andrew Edis QC that made the conviction certain. The QC honed in on the events of April 2002 when a News of the World article which directly quoted the voicemails of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler was published. Coulson told the court that it was not his job to police every story in the News of the World, to which Edis responded: "Can we at least agree that part of editing a newspaper involves reading it?" Even long-time court watchers winced when the prosecution barrister put it to the defendant: "You are a powerful and intelligent man – well, you used to be powerful, but you are still intelligent." When Edis suggested to Coulson that "even the office cat knew about hacking" his clipped reply, "we didn't have an office cat", did him no favours, unless one could believe that the putative cat would know more about what was taking place in the newsroom than the editor, The convoluted defence explanation of the, now infamous "do his phone" email convinced few.

Andrew Coulson has been convicted of conspiracy to illegally intercept communications in an open and fair trial and will be sentenced, on 4 July. However there are worrying signs that the former News of the World editor will become the scapegoat for a Fleet Street culture that relied on the routine invasion of privacy not just to generate stories, but also to gain political influence. Coulson told the court that in 2004 he informed a News International lawyer and a senior executive, who cannot be named for legal reasons, about the interception of then home secretary David Blunkett's voicemails. If Coulson is telling the truth then the prospect of a corporate prosecution against News International, the world's largest media conglomerate, becomes a distinct possibility.

The irony of the British tabloid press focusing on "one rogue editor" as being responsible for all phone-hacking will not be lost on Andy Coulson. He now has to prepare a plea of mitigation to Mr Justice Saunders early next week and faces a possible retrial on charges of conspiring to corrupt a public official. There are also legal proceedings for alleged perjury in Scotland pending. Yet through it all he has never cracked, never shown any despair at what faces him.

Early on in the case a veteran journalist described Andy Coulson to me as a "good soldier", and nothing I have seen in this marathon trial has ever led me to disagree with that assessment. The Guardian once reported that the "mantra" at News International when the hacking scandal broke was "You can have Andy but you're not getting Rebekah." Their wish has been granted.


James Doleman

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