It’s been a busy week in events connected to the hacking trial. As previous posts here have tried to explain there has been new evidence about Rebekah Brooks’ authorisation of cash payments from the trial of six Sun journalists at Kingston Crown Court; and two ongoing trials at the Old Bailey. The jury returned a guilty verdict for one News of the World journalist for ‘conspiracy to commit misconduct in public officer’ for paying a prison officer for stories about Jon Venables. This journalist cannot be named for legal reasons.
Meanwhile, the famous News of the World ‘fake sheikh’, Mazher Mahmood, lost a high court battle to prevent his image being broadcast in a BBC 1 Panorama documentary about his activity this coming Monday at 8.30 pm – various blog posts, here, here and here about Mr Mr Mahmood. And then today we had the sentencing of the fourth news desk editor Ian Edmondson for Phone hacking at the main hacking trial. Mr Justice Saunders remarks are reprinted below in full
R –v- Ian Edmondson
This Defendant has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to intercept communications. The offence was committed during the time when he worked at the News of the World in a senior position either as associate news editor or for most of the time as news editor. He has pleaded guilty at a very late stage. He pleaded not guilty and maintained that plea during the main trial until I discharged the jury from returning a verdict in his case due to his ill health. I adjourned his case for a re-trial. There was a further hearing when I decided that he was fit to plead. He has pleaded guilty before his re-trial. The date had not been fixed for the re-trial but it would have been heard as soon as possible. Part of the reason for the late plea may have been Mr. Edmondson’s medical condition but there is no reason to suppose that at the start of the trial he wasn’t functioning properly.
I have already said a great deal about the offence of phone hacking and events at the News of the World in my sentencing remarks in relation to other Defendants. It is unnecessary to repeat them. Suffice it to say that the editor from 2003 until early 2007, Andrew Coulson, was convicted by a jury and three other news editors pleaded guilty before the main trial. I remind everyone that the maximum sentence for the offence of conspiracy to intercept communications is 2 years imprisonment. I took that as a starting point in Andrew Coulson’s case to reflect the facts that he was the editor and in day to day charge of the newspaper; the quantity of phone hacking which occurred and the period of time over which it carried on. I reduced that to 18 months to reflect the delay in bringing the case to court and some matters of personal mitigation.
In the cases of Miskiw and Thurlbeck, I took a starting point of 12 months which I reduced to 6 months to reflect their pleas of guilty, the delay in sentence and their personal mitigation.
I mention those matters as I need to do justice, not only to this Defendant, but also between Defendants in deciding the correct sentence to impose.
I accept that Mr. Edmondson was a party to the conspiracy for a shorter period than Miskiw and Thurlbeck. Phone hacking was established on the news desk at the News of the World as a way of getting stories, before Mr. Edmondson returned there. He played no role in the hacking of Milly Dowler’s voicemail which ultimately led to the closure of the News of the World. I also accept that, before Mr. Edmondson became actively involved in phone hacking, he was seeking to persuade management that Mulcaire should be dismissed. The reason Mr. Edmondson said that appeared to be the amount of money that Mulcaire was costing rather than a recognition that he was accessing voicemails to gain information for the News of the World which should stop.
I accept as well that there was considerable pressure on journalists at the News of the World to obtain stories to sell newspapers. That may have led to a belief that the ends justified the means. He worked under very stressful conditions as it apparent from the letter I have received from his wife.
Mr. Edmondson says that he was advised by the senior lawyer at the News of the World that phone hacking was not contrary to the criminal law. Whether that is correct or not, accessing voicemails is contrary to the ethics of journalism and any good journalist knew that he should not be doing it.
Part of the basis of plea put forward by Edmondson is that ‘the fact that phones could be hacked was common knowledge and industry wide and had been so since the late 1990s’. Not all of Edmondson’s basis of plea is accepted by the prosecution but that part is. I therefore have to sentence on the basis that that is correct despite the fact that it is inconsistent with some evidence given by distinguished journalists in the main trial. The fact that I sentence Mr.Edmondson on that basis should not and cannot effect any conclusion that any jury may reach in any other trial. Mr. Edmondson is not the first senior journalist who has pleaded guilty who has now disclosed how prevalent phone hacking was throughout the industry. In Mr. Edmondson’s case it would have been more powerful mitigation if he had felt able earlier to say publicly what he is saying now.
In February 2005 Edmondson was urging the management to terminate Mulcaire’s contract; by March 2006 he was e mailing Mulcaire to tell him that his contract was being extended at his instigation. During that period, Mr. Edmondson clearly had a change of view as to the value of Mulcaire’s services. Whatever other services Mulcaire may have supplied to the News of the World, I have no doubt his principle use was supplying tapes of material obtained illegally from voicemails to provide stories for the paper and to supply the necessary information to journalists at the News of the World so that they could access voicemails themselves. In my judgment Mr. Edmondson’s involvement with phone hacking is clear on the evidence. There are 334 notes of instruction tasking Mulcaire with enquiries linked to phone hacking which have ‘Ian’ in the top left corner. I am satisfied, because the evidence of this is overwhelming, that ‘Ian’ relates to Edmondson. That is a significantly smaller number than Miskiw but more than Thurlbeck. Edmondson was principally involved between July 2005 and August 2006 when Goodman was arrested and phone hacking at the News of the World stopped. It was during Edmondson’s time as News Editor that Mulcaire complained to him that he could not cope with all the tasking that he was being given. Mulcaire e mailed Edmondson the details required to hack the phones of four people in the public eye. There can be no other explanation for the supply of that information than to allow journalists at the News of the World to do their own phone hacking and the phone records from the News of the World confirm that that is what happened. Mr. Edmondson denies doing any phone hacking personally. That may be right but, if anything, it is more serious to supply his subordinates with the necessary information to do so. Any suggestion of any other explanation for those e mails is unarguable. The list of victims of hacking with whom Edmondson was involved included celebrities, politicians and one person who was famous because of his links with the royal family. Taken together they amount to a substantial invasion of privacy which has caused distress to many people, the majority of whom cannot be accused of courting publicity
Doing the best that I can to do justice between Defendants and taking into account the considerable amount of evidence about phone hacking at the News of the World that I have heard, the starting point that I take in Mr. Edmondson’s case is one of 10 months which is slightly lower than the one I adopted in the case of Miskiw and Thurlbeck. They were involved for longer and from an earlier stage.
Mr. Edmondson is not entitled to the same credit that they received for pleading guilty. He maintained his innocence through the first trial until he was taken ill and was unable to continue.
I shall give him some but limited credit to reflect his very late plea of guilty. While a trial of Mr. Edmondson on his own would have been much shorter than the first trial, it would have taken some weeks. The country has been saved the expense of that and saving money is the principle pragmatic justification for credit for plea. He is therefore entitled to some reduction in his sentence.
There is personal mitigation. I am satisfied that he is suffering from depression as well as having other medical problems. Mr Edmondson was dismissed from his job at the News of the World and he has lost his reputation as a journalist. He has only himself to blame for that but I am satisfied that it is part of the reason he is now suffering from depression. It is not the only cause. There have been other difficulties in his life which have contributed to it. As well as a number of testimonials talking of Mr. Edmondson’s good qualities, all of which I accept, I have read a very moving letter from his wife speaking of the effects that the investigation and prosecution have had on her and their young family. I am afraid that that is not unusual but has been exacerbated in this case by the extent of media interest.
I shall reduce the sentence by 10% to reflect the guilty plea. That is really the maximum that can be allowed for such a late plea. I shall also reduce the sentence by another month to reflect the personal mitigation. While I have considerable sympathy for Mr. Edmondson’s family I am afraid that an immediate sentence of custody is inevitable. It would create an unfair disparity to others if this sentence were not immediate. I have reduced the length of the sentence as much as I properly can.
The sentence is one of 8 months imprisonment.