LONDON (AP) — A judge on Wednesday dismissed the jury at Britain’s phone-hacking trial after it failed to reach a verdict on two final counts, having convicted a former editor of hacking a day earlier.
Judge John Saunders ended the trial after jurors said they could not agree whether former News of the World editor Andy Coulson and ex-royal editor Clive Goodman were guilty of paying police officers for royal phone directories.
On Tuesday the jury unanimously convicted Coulson of conspiring to hack phones. Ex-editor Rebekah Brooks and four others were acquitted.
Prosecutors said they would announce on Monday whether they would seek a retrial.
Coulson, who served as Prime Minister David Cameron’s spin doctor between 2007 and 2011, faces up to two years in jail on the hacking charge. He is due to be sentenced next week, along with five former News of the World staffers who pleaded guilty before the trial began.
The jury of eight women and three men deliberated for eight days, after a trial lasting almost eight months that drew intense interest from around the world.
Saunders told the 11 jurors 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.
The scandal led Murdoch to shut down the 168-year-old newspaper and triggered police investigations in which dozens of journalists and officials have been arrested.
Coulson’s conviction puts pressure on Murdoch and the executives of his News Corp. media empire, which could eventually face a corporate prosecution over the tabloid’s illegal activities.
Senior Murdoch executives have been questioned by police, and the Guardian newspaper reported that detectives want to interview Murdoch “under caution” – meaning as a potential suspect. Neither the police nor News Corp. would comment.
Coulson’s lawyers repeatedly sought to have the case dismissed, arguing that their client could not receive a fair trial given the vast amount of comment and speculation about the case.
Their latest attempt came Wednesday, a day after Cameron made a televised apology for hiring Coulson in 2007 – after Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were jailed for hacking the phones of royal aides.
Saunders said he wrote to Cameron’s private secretary asking him to explain “why he had issued his statement when the jury were still considering verdicts.”
The judge did not throw out the case but said it was “unsatisfactory so far as justice and the rule of law are concerned … when politicians regard it as open season.”
Cameron apologized again Wednesday, telling lawmakers in the House of Commons that he hired Coulson “on the basis of assurances that I received” that he had been unaware of illegal eavesdropping.
“I am sorry, this was the wrong decision,” Cameron said.
Opposition leader Ed Miliband said an apology was not good enough.
“This is about his character, his judgment and the warnings he ignored,” Miliband said of Cameron.
“For four years the prime minister’s hand-picked closest adviser was a criminal and brought disgrace to Downing Street.”