FORMER editor Andy Coulson, from Kent, and three of his most senior staff – including Sunderland-born Neville Thurlbeck – “utterly corrupted” the News of the World at the highest level and presided over phone hacking on an industrial scale, a court has heard.
Coulson, 46, had denied plotting to hack phones between 2000 and 2006 but was found guilty following a marathon Old Bailey trial which went on for 139 days.
He was joined in the dock by three ex-news editors – Thurlbeck, Greg Miskiw and James Weatherup – and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire who all pleaded guilty to phone hacking before the trial began last year.
They now face up to two years in jail for their part in the plot which the prosecution said involved a veritable “Who’s Who of Britain” having their private lives invaded through voicemail interception.
Previously, the NotW had insisted phone hacking was the work of one “rogue reporter”, Clive Goodman who was convicted of phone hacking with Mulcaire in 2006.
Prosecutor Andrew Edis QC said: “Anyone who has ever suggested or believed or been told that phone hacking that was revealed in 2006/7 was the work of a single rogue reporter needs to look carefully at this dock in which there are four employees of the NotW and only one of them can be described as a reporter, Thurlbeck who was chief reporter.”
He went on: “The newsdesk editor job was described as being the hub or engine room of the paper therefore all of these four defendants can be described as highly paid and influential employees of a national newspaper.
“Between them these defendants utterly corrupted this newspaper which became at the highest level a criminal enterprise.
“This was systemic misconduct approved and participated in by the editor himself.”
Mr Edis told the court that hundreds of high profile individuals had been targeted by Mulcaire and the NotW journalists but the full extent of hacking may never be known.
Over the years, Mulcaire had been paid around half a million pounds by the NotW to hack phones at the request of the newsdesk executives, the court heard.
Of Coulson’s former colleagues, Miskiw was the most heavily implicated and made some 1,500 taskings to Mulcaire between 1999 and 2006, some even after he had left the newspaper.
On July 21 2004, he asked Mulcaire to target Spectator publisher Kimberly Quinn over her involvement with former home secretary David Blunkett.
He and Thurlbeck were also responsible for instructing Mulcaire over the Milly Dowler hacking in 2002, the court heard.
In all, Thurlbeck’s name appeared on 261 pages of Mulcaire’s notes, Mr Edis said.
Weatherup was the least involved in the plot. His name appeared on just 157 pages of the private detective’s notes.
Weatherup, Miskiw and Thurlbeck were all involved in targeting another former home secretary Charles Clarke over a false rumour he was having an affair.
In April 2006, Mulcaire was overloaded with hacking work, mistakes were made and the NotW plotters started “turning in on themselves”, Mr Edis said.
By then, the prosecutor said: “It is apparent from his notes Mr Coulson himself became a victim of his own conspiracy and others were also hacked.”
Mr Edis went on to apply for costs. The total cost of the hacking trial was around £1.7 million but the elements of the case which led to convictions for phone hacking was around £750,000, the court heard.
In mitigation, Mulcaire’s lawyer said he had already been jailed for phone hacking in 2007 when many of the victims in the fresh inquiry were known about by police.
Since he served his time in jail, the married 43-year-old had not only faced bankruptcy but also become the “personification” of the NotW scandal in the media.
His lawyer Gavin Millar QC said: “Of course he has to accept such is life and this is a conspiracy of his involvement before 2006 but we say that the court should recognise that all of that happened and Mr Mulcaire uniquely and unilaterally over this period was named and shamed in the media as effectively the personification of the phone hacking scandal and that placed a huge pressure on Mr Mulcaire and his family during those years.”
Following the 2011 police investigation, Mulcaire, 43, from Sutton in Surrey, admitted three further counts of conspiring to phone hack plus a fourth count of hacking the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler in 2002 - an act which eventually led to the downfall of the NotW in 2011.
NotW’s news editor Miskiw, 64, from Leeds; chief reporter Thurlbeck, 52, now of Esher, Surrey, and Weatherup, 58, of Brentwood in Essex have all admitted one general count of conspiring together and with others to illegally access voicemails between October 2000 and August 2006.
:: Meanwhile, Coulson’s legal woes continued when he was told he would face a re-trial over charges of plotting to bribe corrupt officials while he was an editor at the News of the World.
Last week a jury was discharged after it failed to agree on whether Coulson, 46, of Charing, Kent, and ex-NotW royal editor Clive Goodman, 56, of Addlestone, Surrey, conspired to commit misconduct in public office by paying police officers for two royal directories.
But today Mr Edis said the CPS would pursue both defendants over the two counts.
:: Reporter Dan Evans, who has also admitted phone hacking, will be sentenced separately in late July, the court heard.