LONDON (AP) — The last lawyer has argued. The final witness has been heard.
After seven months of courtroom drama and celebrity cameos, Britain’s phone hacking trial will soon be in the hands of jurors. They are expected to retire this week to decide whether the dramatic fall of powerful editors political insiders Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks will end in criminal conviction, and possibly prison.
The prosecution and the defense agree that employees of the scoop-hungry News of the World hacked the phones of scores of people, including Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old who was kidnapped in 2002 and later found murdered. Revelation of that action, in 2011, triggered a wave of public outrage that brought down the 168-year-old tabloid and spurred criminal investigations in which dozens of journalists and officials have been arrested.
Judge John Saunders told jurors that the News of the World had invaded victims’ privacy — their job is to decide who knew about it.
Brooks, Coulson and five other defendants deny the charges, which include:
PHONE HACKING: Brooks, Coulson and former News of the World managing editor Stuart Kuttner are accused of “conspiracy to intercept communications” — phone hacking. Brooks was editor from 2000 until she moved to sister paper The Sun in 2003; Coulson was her deputy. He edited the News of the World between 2003 and 2007, when he became communications chief to Conservative leader, and later prime minister, David Cameron.
Several News of the World employees have pleaded guilty to hacking in conjunction with private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, who was briefly jailed in 2007 for eavesdropping on the voicemails of royal aides. Defense lawyers say there is no evidence to prove Brooks, Coulson and Kuttner — busy editors of a large paper in a fiercely competitive market — were aware of illegal actions by staff.
Prosecutors say they must have known; the News of the World paid almost 100,000 pounds a year ($168,000) to Mulcaire.
And they say Brooks and Coulson must have shared information with each other because they were having an affair. An intimate letter written by Brooks after the couple broke up provided the trial with one of its many riveting moments.
Lead prosecutor Andrew Edis told the jury that Brooks, Coulson and Kuttner all knew about phone hacking, and “none of them lifted a finger to stop it.”
BRIBERY: Brooks, Coulson and ex-News of the World editor Clive Goodman are accused of paying public officials for information.
Prosecutors allege Coulson and Goodman bought royal phone directories and that the phone numbers were targeted for hacking.
Goodman was jailed along with Mulcaire in 2007 for hacking the phones of royal staff. But he did not disclose until this trial — after being promised that he would not face further phone hacking charges — that he also eavesdropped on Prince William and Kate Middleton, the latter more than 150 times.
Brooks is charged with conspiring to pay officials for information while she was editor of The Sun. Another charge, that Brooks paid an official for photos of Prince William in a bikini, was dropped due to lack of evidence.
COVER-UP: Brooks, her husband Charles, her personal assistant Cheryl Carter and News International security chief Mark Hanna are accused of conspiring to pervert the course of justice by hiding evidence from investigators. Prosecutors say that as the police net closed around the News of the World in 2011, Carter took boxes of notebooks from the company archive at Brooks’ request.
They also allege that Rebekah Brooks, Charles Brooks and Hanna took electronic devices and other material from the Brooks’ home and hid the belongings in a parking garage, where they were later found by a cleaner. The stash included a laptop computer, documents and several lesbian porn DVDs. Charles Brooks said he hid the material because he was embarrassed, not disposing of evidence.
Defense attorneys accuse prosecutors of twisting innocent actions to fit a narrative of wrongdoing. Coulson’s lawyer, Timothy Langdale, said prosecutor Edis was “more than capable of making running for a bus look sinister.”
Laidlaw said prosecutors had subjected Rebekah Brooks to “a witch hunt,” and the judge told jurors to ignore the vitriol directed at her online. Brooks gave her own account of events on the witness stand, describing her rise from cub reporter to top executive, the pressures of her career and her “car-crash” personal life.
Her husband was painted by his defense as an amiable but sometimes “daft” person incapable of masterminding a criminal operation. A character witness described how he once drank a pint of dishwashing liquid as a hangover cure. Charles Brooks’ lawyer Neil Saunders said that “while he is a man who is capable of drinking a bottle of Fairy Liquid, he is not capable of committing this offense.”
THE MOMENT OF TRUTH
The trial has featured moments of high drama — including the revelation of Coulson and Brooks’ love affair– and celebrity appearances. Jude Law and Sienna Miller testified about how their relationship, and Miller’s fling with Daniel Craig, became headline news.
The final chapter is in the hands of eight women and three men on the jury, who will deliver their verdicts as soon as they have reached a decision on all counts.
If convicted, the defendants could face prison. The maximum sentence for phone hacking is two years in jail, while the other charges carry a maximum life sentence, although the average term imposed is much shorter.
Summing up, the judge told jurors that all the defendants — apart from convicted phone hacker Goodman — “are of good character.”
“It does not mean that any of the defendants cannot lie,” he said.
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