Senior managers “condoned and encouraged” the endemic practice of phone hacking at the News of the World, a court has heard.
Former news editors, who admitted their part in the long-running hacking plot, heaped blame on their own bosses ahead of their sentencing at the Old Bailey on Friday.
Neville Thurlbeck, Greg Miskiw, James Weatherup and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire joined former editor Andy Coulson in the dock yesterday as their lawyers mitigated on their behalf.
Coulson, 46, had denied conspiring to hack phones between 2000 and 2006 but was found guilty following a 139-day trial. His co-defendants Rebekah Brooks and managing editor Stuart Kuttner were cleared.
In mitigation, lawyers for two out of three of the ex-NotW newsdesk staff implicated more senior executives of the newspaper, who cannot be named for legal reasons.
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.
The defendants 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.
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.
“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.”
In mitigation, Thurlbeck’s lawyer implicated more senior staff. He said Coulson was not truthful in his evidence about David Blunkett’s 2004 voicemail declaring his love for Spectator publisher Kimberly Quinn.
Coulson had told the jury he was shocked and angry when he found out about it from Thurlbeck and told him to stop phone hacking.
But Hugh Davies QC said: “That is simply not accurate. No such disapproval of the practice was given by Mr Coulson. There was no direction to stop.”
Weatherup only instructed Mulcaire to hack phones because it was the “standing policy” of the NotW, his lawyer said.
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 had not only faced bankruptcy but also become the “personification” of the NotW scandal in the media.
Following the 2011 police investigation, Mulcaire, 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 – which eventually led to the downfall of the NotW in 2011.
NotW’s news editor Miskiw, 64, from Leeds; chief reporter Thurlbeck, 52, 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.
The case was adjourned until today when Coulson’s mitigation will be heard.
Meanwhile, Coulson’s legal woes continued when he was told he would face a retrial over charges of allegedly plotting to bribe corrupt officials while he was an editor at the NotW.