It was an odd morning in court for those of us who have sat through the eight months of the phone-hacking trial. The familiar faces of Rebekah and Charlie Brooks, Cheryl Carter and Mark Hanna had gone to be replaced with five new defendants. Of the original seven charged only Andy Coulson remained.
The court itself also had changed. Due to the number of people in court journalists took over the jury box, and while the prosecution team was the same, a new set of bewigged defence barristers filled the well of the court. "The cast has changed but the play remains the same," one observer remarked.
The presiding judge, Mr Justice Saunders, entered the court just after 10am and those due to be sentenced - Greg Miskiw, Dan Evans, James Weatherup, Neville Thurlbeck, Andy Coulson and Glenn Mulcaire - stood up and confirmed their names. Andrew Edis QC, for the prosecution, began proceedings by telling the court that Coulson, along with former News of the World Royal editor Clive Goodman, would face a re-trial on charges of misconduct in a public office, two charges that the previous jury had failed to reach a verdict on. In a surprise move, the prosecution agreed, for legal reasons, to postpone the sentencing of former News of the World features writer Dan Evans, who was allowed to leave the court.
Edis then formally opened the case against the remaining defendants, telling the court that they were the "hub of the paper, highly paid and influential employees" of the News of the World. He told the court that they "utterly corrupted that newspaper which became at the highest level a thoroughly criminal enterprise". The prosecutor noted that the defendants had been involved in trying to trace the teenage killers of James Bulger, which due to a injunction, would be illegal on its own even if the methods used had been legal. The barrister then noted the distress the News of the World's invasions of privacy had caused to "hundreds of people".
The prosecution then went through the role that each of the defendants had played in phone-hacking. Weatherup, Thurlbeck and Miskiw were all news editors at the paper and had coordinated the operation. Glenn Mulcaire carried out the hacking and Andy Coulson, as editor, approved the payments, he said. Edis asked the judge to note that Mulcaire had already served six months for phone-hacking in 2007 and his current prosecution may be seen as "double jeopardy". However, Edis went on to say that this situation could have been avoided if Mulcaire had been honest then, suggesting that the mitigation statement he had made then was untrue. "It's a balance," he asked Justice Saunders to consider.
Edis then asked the court to consider that the original Milly Dowler hacking was not on the murdered teenager's phone but that of her parents. The prosecutor said that as the motive for the hack was to locate the missing girl it was perhaps "less morally wicked than some others". However, the barrister asked the judge to consider that when the newspaper received information that Dowler may have been in Telford they withheld it from police, which, Edis said, meant that had she been alive it would have exposed Milly to "avoidable danger". He also noted that the paper's instructions to intercept the voicemails of then Fire Brigades Union leader Andy Gilchrist was "hacking in pursuit of a political agenda" as the paper was against the union taking industrial action.
The barrister then told the court that 2005/2006 was the "golden age of the hacking industry", saying that in the "frenzy of activity" mistakes started to be made and the former policy to never mention hacking on emails started to break down. The scale of voicemail interception, Edis said, was such that Glenn Mulcaire sent an email to staff entitled "overload", stating "no more please". The court was reminded that by this time Mulcaire was intercepting the voicemails of other News International staff including Coulson. Edis suggested that the former editor had, as a consequence, become "the victim of his own conspiracy".
Edis then told the court that he was applying to have the defendants repay costs of the trial which he said were £1.7m. Two thirds of the cost, he said, related to phone-hacking charges and some to defendants that had been acquitted. The prosecution barrister said that that he would be asking the court to recover £750,000 from those who had been found guilty. The maximum sentence the defendants face for their breach of the "Regulation of investigatory powers act", the court was told, is two years.
Gavin Miller QC, counsel for Glenn Mulcaire, then rose to make a speech in mitigation on behalf of his client. He told the court that his client had become "the personification" of phone-hacking that had led to "enormous pressure" being placed on him. Miller put it to the judge that Mulcaire had already served time in prison which had a "chastening effect" on him and was now unemployed. The convicted phone-hacker, the court was told, had been made bankrupt and had no assets other than his family home and was being "chased by creditors". Mulcaire, his counsel said, had admitted his responsibility over the Milly Dowler hacking and issued a public apology to her family. The court was told that Mulcaire believed at the time he had been tasked to intercept the voicemails by the police.