Phone-hacking trial: Andy Coulson a 'lightning rod' for political vendettas, court told
Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson today sat alone in the long glass covered dock of court 12 of London's Old Bailey to hear his counsel, Timothy Langdale QC, begin a speech of mitigation after his client was convicted of conspiring to illegally intercept communications last week.
The QC told the court that he was not "going behind" the jury's verdict so what he could say to the court was limited. He suggested that there was "no clear evidence" against his client but would not speculate on how the jury reached their decision. The barrister told the judge there were "some features of this sorry affair that must be mentioned", saying that in 2004 no one in the newspaper industry knew phone hacking was a criminal offence and the legal department at the News of the World did not tell his client it was. "Things may have turned out very differently if they had," he added.
Langdale told the court that there was no evidence presented by the prosecution that Coulson knew about the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone or that he was aware of the tasking of Glenn Mulcaire in 2002 to gather information about the missing teenager. The barrister told the court that it was "unwarranted" to suggest that Andy Coulson tried to hide information from the police when News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman was arrested for phone hacking in 2006. He noted that it was a decision by the Crown Prosecution Service to limit the charges against Goodman. "Mr Coulson played no part in that," he said.
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The barrister then challenged the prosecution assertion that Coulson and others "utterly corrupted that newspaper until it became a criminal enterprise". He suggested that this was a "sweeping and unfair generalisation". No one who worked at the News of the World thought of themselves as a criminal, he said, and noted the paper's campaigning work and political reporting. The paper, Langdale continued, "had a genuine social and political impact" and the prosecution statement risked "smearing the good people who worked for the paper".
The barrister told the court that in his view the offence, while serious, did not reach the threshold for a maximum sentence. "They did not knowingly break the law." The defence then called a witness, Matthew D'Ancona, a journalist and former editor of the Spectator.
D'Ancona told the court that he met Coulson while they were both journalists. The defence barrister asked the witness about the defendant's time as director of communications for the Conservative party, and D'Acona said Coulson was "utterly reliable" and was a refreshing change from the era of "spin". The witness continued that Coulson "became a trusted member of David Cameron's team very quickly" and was consulted over issues of political strategy outside the communications remit. "He wanted to restore trust in public life," D'Ancona said. He then left the witness box.
The defence barrister concluded that Coulson had "lost his good name" which was a heavy blow for "a thoroughly decent man". Langdale told the court that his client had become a "lightning conductor" for the "political aspects of the case". He ended by saying that that there were a number of "political and newspaper vendettas" that meant he would suffer more than most from a guilty verdict. He then ended his speech.
Court then adjourned until Friday when Coulson, and the other defendants that have pleaded guilty, will be sentenced. The maximum penalty for the illegal interception of communications is two years' imprisonment.