Andy Coulson, a former top aide to British Prime Minister David Cameron, was yesterday jailed for 18 months for his role in the phone-hacking scandal that brought down Rupert Murdoch's News of the World tabloid.
The sentence passed by a judge at London's Old Bailey court caps a stunning fall from grace for Coulson, the ex-editor of the newspaper, who once enjoyed access to the heights of the British establishment.
Former News of the World news editor Greg Miskiw and chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck were each sentenced to six months in jail, while journalist James Weatherup and private detective Glenn Mulcaire each received suspended sentences.
Murdoch shut the tabloid in disgrace in 2011 after it emerged it had become what prosecutors called a "criminal enterprise" that hacked the voicemails of royals, politicians, celebrities and even a murdered schoolgirl.
"Mr Coulson has to take the major shame for the blame of phone hacking at the News of the World," Judge John Saunders said. "He knew about it and he encouraged it when he should have stopped it."
Cameron was forced to make an embarrassing apology after Coulson was convicted on June 24 on one count of conspiring to illegally access voicemails following an eight-month trial. The other four had all pleaded guilty.
Coulson, 46, was News of the World editor from 2003 to 2007 and then worked as Cameron's communications chief until his resignation in 2011.
Rebekah Brooks, the former head of Murdoch's British newspaper arm and editor of the News of the World from 2000 to 2003, was cleared of all charges at the trial, along with her husband and three other people.
During mitigation hearings ahead of the sentencing, Coulson blamed lawyers at the tabloid for failing to tell him that phone hacking was illegal.
Brooks said last week that she felt "vindicated" and that her thoughts were with colleagues still facing legal action.
But the verdicts heaped embarrassment on Cameron.
He reacted to the sentence in a statement yesterday, saying: "What it says is that it's right that justice should be done, and that no one is above the law, as I've always said."
Last week he admitted it was the "wrong decision" to take on Coulson, although he denied ignoring warnings about the journalist's activities at the News of the World.
Cameron was then rebuked by the judge for speaking out about the case, one of the most expensive in British criminal history, before it was finished.
Coulson and former royal editor Clive Goodman face a retrial on charges of paying a police officer for royal telephone directories, after the jury in the original trial failed to reach a verdict.
The scandal also prompted a major judge-led inquiry on the reform of Britain's notoriously raucous press.