Judge rebukes British PM David Cameron for apology during hacking case

Ed Miliband questions Cameron's judgment in hiring ex-editor; judge criticises PM's apology

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 June, 2014, 10:58pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 June, 2014, 12:59am

British Prime Minister David Cameron faced fresh embarrassment after the judge in the phone-hacking case reprimanded him for making an apology for hiring former editor Andy Coulson while the jury was still considering some charges.

Meanwhile, the eight-month phone-hacking trial came to an end as jurors were sent home without reaching a verdict on two further charges against Coulson, 46, alleging payments to police officers.

The judge at London's Old Bailey reprimanded Cameron for interference in his first apology for hiring Coulson on Tuesday.

This came after Coulson was found guilty of hacking but before a verdict had been reached on the bribery charges, raising the possibility that jurors could have been influenced.

Judge John Saunders told the 11 jurors, eight of them women, that the country owed them "a great debt of gratitude", and exempted them from further jury service for life.

The trial - one of the longest and most expensive in British history - was triggered by revelations that the Rupert Murdoch-owned
News of the World had routinely eavesdropped on the voicemails of politicians, celebrities and others in the public eye.

Saunders said he had rejected a request by Coulson's defence lawyers to halt proceedings as a result of Cameron's remarks, but added: "That does not mean that I am not concerned about what has happened in this case."

Downing Street said the prime minister had spoken after the verdict had been given in open court and was only speaking about the hacking conspiracy verdict and not other charges against Coulson. It also said Cameron made his statement after receiving legal advice.

They confirmed they had received a letter from the judge on Tuesday night and had replied giving an explanation of why Cameron had made his statement and on what basis.

Coulson's conviction put the spotlight on Cameron's decision to hire him as an adviser just months after he resigned as
News of the World editor in 2007 following the jailing of the paper's royal editor and a private investigator for hacking.

"I always said that if [Coulson's] assurances turned out to be wrong I would apologise fully and frankly to this House of Commons and I do so today ... This was the wrong decision," Cameron told members of Parliament in the House of Commons.

Opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband said the charge against Cameron was "not one of ignorance but one of wilful negligence".

During a heated exchange, Miliband repeatedly called Cameron's judgment into question.

"Today we know that for four years the prime minister's hand-picked closest adviser was a criminal and brought disgrace to Downing Street. We now also know that the prime minister wilfully ignored multiple warnings about him," said Miliband.

"The prime minister will always be remembered as being the first ever occupant of his office who brought a criminal into the heart of Downing Street," he added.

Coulson will be sentenced on Friday next week on the phone-hacking charge.

Reuters, The Guardian, Associated Press