Andy Coulson, a former News of the World editor, was sentenced to 18 months in jail for phone hacking yesterday morning. The maximum sentence was two years.
Four others were sentenced with Coulson: Former News of the World journalists Greg Miskiw and Neville Thurlbeck were given six months imprisonment. Former reporter James Weatherup was given “4 months imprisonment suspended for 12 months and an order to do unpaid work for 200 hours.”
The sentencing judge, Justice Saunders explained that he gave the three former reporters “the maximum one third discount” on their sentences because they pleaded guilty instead of going to trial.
Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator who already was imprisoned in 2007 for phone hacking and pleaded guilty to hacking last year, was sentenced to “6 months imprisonment suspended for 12 months” along with “200 hours of unpaid work.”
Leading up to the sentencing, Coulson was convicted June 24 of phone hacking. He still faces charges of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office over accusations he paid police officers for information about a royal phone book. He will be re-tried for those charges.
Why Coulson got 18 Months, instead of full sentence
The UK Telegraph published Justice Saunders’ “sentencing remarks”, which explained why Coulson was given 18 months and more on his decisions.
Saunders commented that he was aware of how high-profile and possibly controversial his sentencing ruling would be. He wrote:
“There will be those who will be outraged that I haven’t passed sentences well in excess of the permitted maximum and there will be those that think that it shouldn’t be a crime for the press to intrude into the lives of the famous and that the legislation and this prosecution is in some way an attack on the freedom of the press to carry out their vital role as public watchdogs.”
He noted that hacking wasn’t a limited offense, but rather “there were many thousands of phone hacks” of people ranging from public figures to everyday people.
“It is a mistake to believe that the only people whose phones were hacked or whose messages were intercepted were people in the public eye who courted publicity,” he explained.
He also pointed out that phone hacking revealed “intensely personal messages” that led to “distrust” among “friends and family who suspected each other of selling the information.”
Saunders also addressed the case of Milly Dowler, the murdered teenager whose phone News of the World hacked in 2002 while she was still missing. Saunders dismissed any claims that News of the World was investigating Dowler’s disappearance altruistically. Instead it was all about publicity and money, he wrote.
“The News of the World were using their resources to try to find Milly Dowler. The fact that they delayed telling the police of the contents of the voicemail demonstrates that their true motivation was not to act in the best interests of the child but to get credit for finding her and thereby sell the maximum number of newspapers.”
Saunders further commented on Coulson’s character and responsibility for hacking, and how that impacted his sentence. Pointing to the jury’s verdict, he wrote that Coulson “has to take the major share of the blame for the phone hacking.”
Even though there was “insufficient evidence” he introduced phone hacking, Coulson “knew about it and encourage it when he should have stopped it,” the judge wrote.
“I take no account of his good character and reputation as a journalist in reducing his sentence because it was that reputation which put him in day to day control of the newspaper and in a position to make use of phone hacking,” Saunders remarked.
Saunders did note that Coulson has exhibited in some aspects “good character” by giving “help and show[ing] kindness to others when they have faced personal tragedy or difficulties.” And, he noted, the phone hacking occurred a long time ago.
Coulson’s actions in presiding over News of the World amidst phone hacking, along with the “mitigating” elements of his character, led to Saunders’ decision to give him 18 months instead of the full 24 months maximum sentence.
The New York Times reported that Coulson could end up serving less than a year. “If he is given time off for good behavior, he could be paroled after serving half of his sentence,” the Times wrote.