Phone-hacking trial reaches dramatic climax

Different endings: Rebekah Brooks is free, but Andy Coulson faces prison © PA

After eight months, a jury has finally announced its verdict on Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson who were both accused of plotting to hack phones in 2011. Has justice now been done?

Branded as a ‘wicked witch’ and ‘Lady Macbeth with a BlackBerry’, the media has long vilified the flame-haired former news editor Rebekah Brooks over how much she knew about the phone-hacking carried out by the News of the World when she was its editor.

But Brooks always denied any knowledge of criminal activity on her watch. This week, a jury agreed with her.

On Tuesday, after a trial lasting more than eight months, an emotional Brooks walked free from the Old Bailey after being found not guilty of four charges, including plotting to hack phones.

But a different fate awaited Andy Coulson, the man who followed Brooks as editor at News of the World and who was also arrested in 2011. Coulson was found guilty of conspiring to hack phones while at the now defunct newspaper. He faces a maximum of two years in prison.

Some believe the outcome of one of the most expensive criminal prosecutions and lengthy police inquiries in history has drawn a line under the phone-hacking scandal. Six journallists out of the eight charged have pleaded guilty or been found guilty of phone-hacking. Two were sent to prison.

It all began in 2005 when royals and celebrities accused the News of the World of hacking into their private voicemails in order to obtain salacious stories. But the paper claimed that just a few ‘rotten apples’ were responsible.

The crisis reignited when allegations emerged that staff at the newspaper had hacked into the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler. It sparked a wave of public revulsion that forced Brooks and Coulson to resign.

The verdict on Coulson has also damaged the prime minister David Cameron, who hired the tabloid editor to lead the Tory party’s media operations in 2007. Cameron has been obliged to apologise.

For Rupert Murdoch, the TV, film and press mogul who owned the News of the World, the hand-wringing also looks set to continue. Scotland Yard officially informed him this week that he would be interviewed as a suspect over the criminal activity at his newspaper.

Case closed?

Some argue that justice has finally been done. In the wake the scandal, an important inquiry was set up and proposals over press regulation have been fiercely debated. Law-breaking journalists have been jailed, and the prime minister has been forced to apologise for hiring one. As one newspaper remarked this week, ‘public life feels cleaner now.’

But others feel that questions still remain. The directors and executives of News International, on whose behalf and for whose profit all this criminal activity was done, have still not explained their part in this. The footsoldiers have been punished; those who gave the orders have still to be brought to justice.

You Decide

  1. Are leaders always responsible for what happens under their watch?
  2. Should the press be more strictly controlled in future to prevent phone-hacking from happening again?

Activities

  1. In groups, come up with a tabloid headline to describe this story, and a broadsheet headline.
  2. Design a timeline which sets out the key events in the phone-hacking scandal.

Some People Say...

“The British press is rotten to the core.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why should I care about the trial’s outcome?
The scandal has thrown up all sorts of issues that are important to our everyday lives. Public opinion is influenced by what is read in the papers, so those in charge have a duty to be fair and impartial. There have been calls to regulate the press, but opponents warn this could lead to censorship and give politicians too much power over what papers publish.
Why would anyone hack a phone?
Quite simply for a ‘good’ story. In its heyday, the News of the World was Britain’s biggest selling paper with a readership of nearly seven and a half million. Formidable pressure was put on journalists to do whatever it took to find a good scoop, even if that meant breaking the law and destroying people’s lives.

Word Watch

Lady Macbeth
The scheming wife of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, who goads her husband into murder in order to achieve her goals.
Old Bailey
The Central Criminal Court of England and Wales, commonly known as the Old Bailey, deals with major criminal cases in central London.
Four charges
She was found not guilty of four charges, including plotting to hack phones, conspiring to pervert the course of justice, and two counts of conspiring to commit misconduct in public office during her editorship of the News of the World and the Sun.
Coulson
The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the charges of misconduct in public office against Coulson and former News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman.
Defunct
Rupert Murdoch closed the newspaper because of the allegations.
Royals and celebrities
More than 4,000 people have been identified by police as possible victims of phone-hacking by the News of the World.
Inquiry
The Leveson Inquiry was set up in 2011 and recommended that a new, independent body should oversee press regulation.

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