British PM under fresh pressure after hacking verdict

Agence France-Presse

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Cameron said it had been the "wrong decision" to make the News of the World editor his media chief in 2007 though denied ignoring warnings about Coulson's activities at the tabloid

'WRONG DECISION.' British Prime Minister David Cameron. File photo by EPA/Andy Rain

LONDON, United Kingdom – Prime Minister David Cameron apologized to parliament on Wednesday, June 25, for hiring former tabloid editor Andy Coulson who has just been convicted of phone hacking but the British leader faced fresh embarrassment as the judge rebuked him for speaking out about the case.

Cameron said it had been the “wrong decision” to make the News of the World editor his media chief in 2007 though denied ignoring warnings about Coulson’s activities at the tabloid, which Rupert Murdoch shut down in disgrace in July 2011.

The 8-month phone-hacking trial came to an end as jurors were sent home without reaching a verdict on two further charges that Coulson faced relating to alleged payments to police officers.

The judge at the Old Bailey court reprimanded Cameron for making his first apology for Coulson’s appointment soon after Coulson was convicted for hacking on Tuesday, June 24, but before the bribery verdicts came.

Judge John Saunders said he had rejected a request by Coulson’s defence lawyers to halt proceedings on the basis that jurors might be influenced by the premier’s views.

But he added: “That does not mean that I am not concerned about what has happened in this case.”

Cameron hired Coulson just months after he resigned as News of the World editor in 2007, soon after the jailing of the paper’s royal editor and a private investigator for hacking.

Coulson, 46, always denied knowing about the practice and the prime minister stuck by him for almost 4 years despite media reports to the contrary.

“I always said that if (Coulson’s) assurances turned out to be wrong I would apologize fully and frankly to this House of Commons and I do so today from this despatch box. This was the wrong decision,” Cameron told the House of Commons.

Opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband said the charge against Cameron was “not one of ignorance but one of willful negligence”.

The high-profile trial centered on the News of the World‘s efforts to hack the phones of Britain’s royal family, politicians, celebrities and victims of crime.

In a dramatic conclusion to one of the most expensive cases in British criminal history, Coulson was found guilty but his fellow former editor and one-time lover Rebekah Brooks was cleared of all charges.

Coulson will learn next week his sentence for hacking – which could be a jail term of up to two years – and also whether prosecutors will seek a retrial on the bribery claims.

Victim’s family’s plea

The hacking scandal prompted a judge-led inquiry into the ethics of Britain’s famously aggressive press, which made recommendations in 2012 on reforming the way it is governed.

However, the new system has yet to come into force following strong opposition by many newspapers, including the Murdoch press.

The sister of a prominent hacking victim, murdered 13-year-old Milly Dowler, urged Cameron to keep his promise to change the way newspapers are regulated.

The revelation that Dowler’s voicemail messages were accessed in 2005 caused public revulsion and prompted Murdoch to shut down the 168-year-old News of the World, at that time Britain’s top-selling Sunday paper.

“Ordinary people have suffered terribly from journalists who recklessly intruded into private grief and stole private information,” Dowler’s sister Gemma said.

“Please keep your promise to us the victims that you will deliver real and permanent change to make sure what happened to us will never happen again.”

Murdoch ‘to be questioned’

The acquittal of Brooks on charges of phone hacking and bribing public officials took some pressure off Murdoch, but his media empire has suffered both financial and reputational damage and the worst may not be over.

Brooks was the media mogul’s protege, editing both the News of the World and its sister paper The Sun before becoming chief executive of his British newspaper empire, News UK.

Now Murdoch himself faces the prospect of being interviewed by police, according to The Guardian newspaper.

Murdoch’s News Corporation has so far paid out more than $450 million (330 million euros) to alleged hacking victims, including Dowler’s parents.

Awaiting sentencing with Coulson next week are five other News of the World employees, including four journalists who pleaded guilty to hacking before the trial began.

Those guilty pleas and Coulson’s conviction make clear that hacking went well beyond “one rogue reporter” as Murdoch’s managers initially claimed.

During the trial, it emerged that the paper had hacked a long list of public figures including Prince William, the second-in-line to the British throne, his now wife Kate and celebrities such as actress Sienna Miller. –

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