Coulson fights legal costs order

Andy Coulson
Andy Coulson

Disgraced former Number 10 spin doctor Andy Coulson returned to court today to fight a legal bid to make him pay £750,000 towards the cost of the phone hacking trial.

Last July, the 47-year-old ex-editor of the News of the World was handed an 18-month jail sentence after being found guilty of plotting at the tabloid to eavesdrop on private voicemails for scoops following the nine-month trial. He served less than five months behind bars before being released in November last year, only to go on trial again in Scotland on a perjury charge, which later collapsed.

The married father-of-three sat in the Old Bailey as his lawyer argued against an order to pay his share of the prosecution costs of the earlier Old Bailey case.

The court heard the Crown was seeking £750,000 from Coulson plus £111,000 from former NotW news editor Ian Edmondson, who also attended court.

Coulson’s lawyer said no more than £375,000 would be a fair sum while Edmondson, due to his financial circumstances, should pay nothing at all, the court heard.

But as Alison Pople QC set out her reasons for the reduction, Mr Justice Saunders cut in to query reports that Coulson was about to cash in from a book deal.

He said: “There has been a suggestion made that Coulson might be raising a lot of money by writing a book. I have no idea but that has been written in the press.

“I would wish to be informed if there is actual or current intentions or negotiations going on as to that.”

Ms Pople replied: “So much that is written in the press is outside the scope of these applications.”

But the senior judge pressed: “It was raised after the case in Scotland was finished. We don’t all live in vacuums as may be suggested.”

The lawyer replied: “Coulson doesn’t have a publishing agreement with any publisher. He has not been offered a publishing agreement and he is not writing a book.”

She went on to say that Coulson, who lives in the picturesque Kent village of Charing, had a problem with his mortgage before his conviction and it had been even harder since.

He has no guarantee of regular income now or in the future, making re-mortgaging impossible, she said.

After being shown a valuation on Coulson’s home, Mr Justice Saunders commented that it was “more than my house is worth but it’s not an astronomical amount”.

He went on to point out that Coulson was educating his three children privately.

Ms Pople responded: “His is relying on the generosity of his friends to educate his children privately. It’s a loan.

“Coulson was in an unprecedented public glare in the course of his trial. With the assistance of close and loyal friends he has been able to maintain that position as far as his sons are concerned.

“What the future holds depends on your Lordship’s order and his ability to work, and the extent his friends continue to be close and loyal.”

The court also heard of Edmondson’s financial state as his lawyer David Chandler suggested he should not pay anything at all towards the cost of the first hacking trial.

Last autumn, Edmondson, 46, of Raynes Park, south-west London, pleaded guilty to the hacking plot as he was about to face a retrial, having been dropped midway through the original trial with Coulson due to ill health.

Since he served two months of an eight-month sentence, he has been living alone in his four-bedroom house – worth more than Coulson’s – which is near to his children and estranged wife.

Mr Chandler said: “He faces regular rejection of his applications for work based on the outcome of his case. He has very little confidence in his ability to earn money, it has been exceptionally difficult for him to find work.

“His monthly outgoings are far in excess of his income. He has £5,000 in a savings account and equity in his home.

“He trudges the streets of London from meeting to meeting to find people who will give him work and it’s a constant struggle.

“He served two months in prison and when on curfew he was unable to attend meetings in the evenings or travel outside London for two months.”

He has had no News International funding and if he was forced to sell his house he would have to move out of London and away from his children to find a property which could accommodate their visits.

Mr Chandler added: “The consequences of selling the house would be devastating. Edmondson simply does not have the money to pay any just or reasonable costs order.”

Mr Justice Saunders reserved his judgement on the matter.

Coulson jailed for 18 months but will be freed in January

Andy-Coulson

Disgraced No 10 spin doctor Andy Coulson was jailed for 18 months today for plotting to hack phones while he was in charge of the News of the World – and he’ll be out in 6 months.

The 46-year-old father of three was found guilty last week of conspiring to intercept voicemails at the now-defunct Sunday tabloid following an eight-month trial at the Old Bailey.

Coulson, from Charing, in Kent, was joined in the dock by three former colleagues and private detective Glenn Mulcaire who all admitted their part in hacking before the trial started last year.

Judge Mr Justice Saunders told the defendants: “I do not accept ignorance of the law provides any mitigation.

“The laws of protection are given to the rich, famous and powerful as to all.”

The judge said Coulson clearly thought it was necessary to use phone hacking to maintain the newspaper’s “competitive edge”.

And he said the delay in the News of the World telling police about the Milly Dowler voicemail in 2002 showed the motivation was to “take credit for finding her” and sell the maximum number of newspapers.

The judge said: “Mr Coulson has to take the major shame for the blame of phone hacking at the NotW. He knew about it, he encouraged it when he should have stopped it.”

There was no reaction from Coulson as he was jailed by the judge.

NotW news editor Greg Miskiw, 64, from Leeds; chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck, 52, of Esher, Surrey; and news editor James Weatherup, 58, of Brentwood in Essex, were also sentenced today after all admitted one general count of conspiring together and with others to illegally access voicemails between October 2000 and August 2006.

Miskiw and Thurlbeck were each jailed for six months.

Weatherup was jailed for four months, suspended for 12 months, and ordered to do 200 hours unpaid community work.

Mulcaire was jailed for six months, suspended for 12 months, and ordered to do 200 hours unpaid community work.

According to Mulcaire’s notes, Miskiw tasked him 1,500 times, Thurlbeck 261 times and Weatherup 157 times, the court heard.

Mr Justice Saunders told them: “All the defendants that I have to sentence, save for Mr Mulcaire are distinguished journalists who had no need to behave as they did to be successful.

“They all achieved a great deal without resorting to the unlawful invasion of other people’s privacy. Those achievements will now count for nothing.

“I accept that their reputations and their careers are irreparably damaged.”

Weatherup and Mulcaire both declined to comment as they left the courtroom.

Mulcaire, who was paid around half a million pounds by the NotW, was first convicted of phone hacking with royal reporter Clive Goodman in 2006.

Following the renewed police investigation into the full extent of hacking, he admitted three more counts of conspiring to hack phones plus a fourth count of hacking the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler in 2002 – an act which eventually led to the closure of the NotW in 2011.

While Coulson was in charge, the NotW was hacking a host of royals, celebrities, politicians and ordinary members of the public on an industrial scale amid intense competition for exclusive stories, the trial heard.

Prosecutor Andrew Edis QC said the Sunday tabloid was “utterly corrupt” and “became a thoroughly criminal enterprise”.

The list of victims whose private lives were invaded read like a “Who’s Who of Britain in the first five years of the century”, he said.

In mitigation, Coulson’s lawyer Timothy Langdale QC said at the time, no one in the newspaper industry realised phone hacking was illegal and the company lawyers did not even tell him.

Earlier this week, Thurlbeck’s lawyer said Coulson had not been truthful in his evidence and he never ordered his client to stop phone hacking when he told him about David Blunkett’s voicemail to Kimberly Quinn in 2004.

Hugh Davies QC said: “No such disapproval of the practice was given by Mr Coulson. There was no direction to stop.”

Weatherup’s lawyer said phone hacking was “endemic” at the NotW and ultimate responsibility lay at more “senior editorial levels”.

Charles Bott QC said: “We have gone from rogue reporter to rogue reporter-plus – but neither of those reflect the truth. Phone hacking was condoned and encouraged by senior managers at the NotW for the simple reason it was an expedient and cost-effective way to obtain information.”

Miskiw’s lawyer Trevor Burke QC asked the judge to take account of his early guilty plea and the fact he had expressed “genuine remorse”.

Gavin Millar QC, for Mulcaire, said his client had already been jailed for phone hacking in 2007 and questioned whether he should be punished again.

Since he served his time, the married 43-year-old from Sutton in south London had not only faced bankruptcy but also become the “personification” of the NotW scandal in the media, he said.

Coulson’s co-defendants Rebekah Brooks and managing editor Stuart Kuttner denied any wrongdoing and were cleared of all charges last week.

The prosecution had applied for £750,000 costs to be paid following the 139-day trial. The maximum sentence for phone hacking is two years in prison.

Mark Leech, the editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisons in England and Wales said Coulson will be out in the New Year.
“Andy Coulson was sentenced to 18 months of which he will serve half and, additionally, he is eligible for release three months earlier than that on Home Detention Curfew – so he’ll be released in six months or around 4th January.”