Leaders: Why did Coulson charge ever go to court?

THERE was significant doubt over the Andy Coulson perjury trial from the outset. If the prosecution could prove Coulson lied about phone hacking at the 2010 perjury trial of former MSP Tommy Sheridan, did it necessarily follow that the lie would have affected the outcome of that trial?

Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson leaves the High Court in Edinburgh. Picture: PA

Yesterday, the case collapsed at the High Court in Edinburgh, over that very doubt. The crucial aspect of the case was relevance. At the end of the prosecution’s case, Lord Burns ruled that nothing he had heard about former News of The World editor Coulson’s involvement in phone hacking had any relevance to Sheridan’s conviction for perjury.

It wouldn’t have mattered if this latest trial had demonstrated Coulson had known about phone hacking at an earlier stage than he had previously admitted. If Coulson had lied, it had to be proved the lie had significant consequence. It didn’t, based on the evidence led.

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The ruling delivered by Lord Burns is based on the very definition of perjury. The case effectively fell at the first hurdle, although the trial went on for two weeks because the prosecution evidence had to be presented in full before relevancy – or lack of – could be assessed.

The outcome has echoes of the collapse of the World’s End murder trial in 2007, which was halted when the judge ruled that the prosecution had failed to prove its case. There was wide political criticism of that failed prosecution, and it required a change in the law to allow a second, ultimately successful, prosecution to be brought, to secure the conviction of Angus Sinclair.

Observers are entitled to ask why the Coulson case got to this stage in the first place, if the basic definition of a perjury charge could not be established. The accused was charged three years ago, and it is reasonable to expect that the Crown Office would be able to reach a conclusion that there was a case to ­answer during that timescale.

That it was not able to do so represents an unacceptable ­failure.

To compound the problem, the Crown had also argued in Sheridan’s trial back in 2010 that phone hacking was not relevant to the accused’s innocence or guilt.

Underlining the folly of the Coulson perjury charge, the Crown was given two days at the end of the trial to decide whether to appeal Lord Burns’ ruling. No appeal was made. If the Crown could see in just two days that an appeal would be unsuccessful, why was this conclusion not reached by those leading the case in the previous three years?

This case represents another embarrassment for the Crown Office, and legitimate questions are being asked about how and why this case came to court, at great public expense. A full review of the handling of the case is required.

Live well and live long, that’s the message

Who wants to know when you will die? Insurance companies and pension providers, mainly. And probably your family, if you are worth a few quid.

We might spend endless hours contemplating the meaning of life, but not many of us linger too long on the issue of our own mortality. That’s human nature. Death is one of life’s few certainties, so why worry about it? And when you’re done, you will be past caring in any case.

But now, thanks to the work of two Swedish scientists, we can all start our countdown clocks – bucket lists to the ready – with the help of a simple test which tells us how likely we are to die in the next five years.

We should be grateful. What a waste of money that timeshare would have been if we hadn’t known we’d be toast in a couple of years. And that 
extended warranty for the new car was a bit presumptuous, wasn’t it? Could have used the cash for a turbo, and gone out in style.

You don’t even have to trouble a doctor to summon up his best solemn face and compassionate delivery to break the news. Impending doom can be determined from the comfort of your own home, by answering around a dozen questions in an online test.

But here’s the really good news: the questionnaire is based on lifestyle. In other words, common sense. Heavy smoker? You are more likely to die. Healthy diet? Guess what – you are less likely to die. Who would have though it?

So the answer is to look after yourself. It will get you in the end, but in the meantime, go on – live a little.