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News Corp hacking trial finally heads to jury

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After a seven month trial, the jury finally gets to consider its verdict in the British hacking trials, something that may have serious ramifications for News Corp internationally. Rodney E. Lever reports.

AFTER A SEVEN-MONTH TRIAL involving some of the most senior executives and reporters who worked for Rupert Murdoch’s English newspapers, a jury of eight women and three men will consider its verdict in the News Corporation hacking trials this week. The final results of the long police investigations and the reams of evidence revealed might be only days away.

The Murdoch trials are ending just 12 weeks short of the time taken in the World War II Nuremberg trials of Adolf Hitler’s senior staff at the end of world war II. In Nuremberg there was never doubt about the crimes of major offenders at the top of the Nazi management tree. Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels had all committed suicide, but the roundup of his generals and his executive staff saw others hanged or gaoled. 

For employees in the media industry across Britain, Europe, America, Canada and Australia, the Murdoch trials hold an equal fascination. Where does the guilt really lie? With the employees or with management? 

Two of Murdoch’s former editors, Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, have denied wrong-doing. Three former senior news editors have pleaded guilty to phone hacking. The jury will have to decide whether Coulson and Brooks were complicit in the hacking. They were charged with conspiracy and with authorising illegal payments to public officials. Rebekah’s husband Charlie Brooks is also on trial for allegedly trying to hinder the police investigation.

If the jury fails to reach a common verdict in reasonable time, Judge John Saunders may seek a majority verdict, which might take longer to produce a result. The charge against Brooks depends on the jury’s decision as to whether there is a reasonable doubt she knew of the phone hacking and whether she had conspired to commit misconduct or to pervert the course of justice.

One of the side issues in the case is her love affair with Andy Coulson, revealed during the trial. Coulson is also faced with conspiracy charges.

In his summing up, Judge Saunders told the jury “not to be dazzled” by the fame of the defendants:

“Some of them enjoyed a lifestyle that you could only dream about. Respect their success but remember that everyone is subject to the law and no one is so powerful that they can ignore it.” 

One journalist, royal reporter Clive Goodman, faces two charges of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office. Former News executives, Ian Edmondson and Stuart Kuttner, are charged on one count each of conspiracy to intercept communications. All have denied all charges.

While the trial has proceeded, Rupert Murdoch, who had told his shareholders “one rogue reporter” had been responsible for the hacking, has continued developing and expanding his American interests.

He has reshuffled leadership and divided News Corp into two separate companies, a publishing arm and an entertainment and TV company 21st Century Fox

His eldest son Lachlan was promoted to non-executive co-chairman of both News Corp and Fox, while the younger James became co-chief operating officer of Fox. This suggested that Lachlan would succeed his father, while James – who has not been charged with any involvement in the phone hacking, although he was the senior executive in London during part of that period – will continue to work as a senior executive in the American operations.

Award winning British author, playwright and journalist Peter Jukes – whose book  The Fall of the House of Murdoch about Rupert Murdoch’s career as a media magnate had a wide readership – has attended the Murdoch trials at London’s historic Old Bailey court house every day, tweeting out live updates as the trial progressed. He is soon to publish a full account of the trials, provisionally titled The Inside Story of the Hacking Trial, which will reveal evidence that was suppressed in the court hearings for legal reasons.

The full-length book will contain all the material he has been legally barred from publishing so far. The final title of the book will be revealed when legal restrictions are lifted in the next few weeks. 

The book can be pre-ordered from www.hackingtrial.com

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