By Henry Chu, Los Angeles Times
LONDON — Former tabloid editor Rebekah Brooks, a close confidante of Rupert Murdoch and once one of Britain’s most influential women, was acquitted Tuesday of phone hacking, corruption and obstruction of justice in a case that shook this country to its core and exposed the uncomfortably close ties between politicians, police and the press.
But Brooks’ former deputy, Andy Coulson, was found guilty of hacking into cellphones and accessing private voicemail messages when he worked at the now-defunct News of the World. Coulson went on to become the top communications aide to Prime Minister David Cameron, who is likely to face uncomfortable questions about his judgment in hiring a man who is now a convicted criminal.
The jury also cleared Brooks’ husband, Charlie Brooks; her former personal assistant, Cheryl Carter; and the director of security at Murdoch’s News International, Mark Hanna, of charges that they tried to cover up wrongdoing and conceal evidence as police launched an investigation into widespread phone hacking.
Authorities believe that the News of the World tapped into the voicemail boxes of hundreds of people, including famous actors, politicians and sports figures. The scandal exploded in July 2011 with revelations that the paper had even accessed messages left on the cellphone of a kidnapped 13-year-old girl who was later found killed.
Amid the public revulsion that followed, Murdoch shuttered the 168-year-old tabloid, and Brooks, 46, resigned as chief of his British newspapers. The head of Scotland Yard stepped down over accusations of too-cozy relations between police and the media, and a controversial bid by Murdoch to expand his broadcast holdings in Britain sank into oblivion.
Tuesday’s verdicts came after a week of jury deliberation in one of the longest criminal trials in British history. Over seven months, the panel heard from dozens of witnesses, examined thousands of documents and listened to salacious details of the defendants’ personal lives that were worthy of the tabloids under scrutiny.
Besides the Brooks, Carpenter and Hanna, another former senior editor, Stuart Kuttner, was acquitted of phone hacking.
Verdicts are still outstanding on charges against former reporter Clive Goodman, who admitted on the witness stand that he had hacked into the cellphones of Prince William and his wife, the former Kate Middleton, nearly 200 times.
Coulson, too, is still awaiting a verdict on charges that he paid public officials for information.
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