The judge in the hacking trial has accused David Cameron and other senior politicians of engaging in an “open season” disregard for “justice and the rule of law”.
Mr Justice Saunders’ criticism of the Prime Minister centred on a “full and frank” public apology from Mr Cameron who admitted he had made the “wrong decision” to employ Coulson after he left the News of the World in 2007.
The former News International editor, a key figure in Rupert Murdoch’s UK print company, was appointed the Conservatives' head of communication, and was later taken into 10 Downing Street following the 2010 general election.
The comments from Mr Cameron and other politicians, including the Labour leader Ed Miliband – who said the PM had “brought a criminal in the heart of Downing Street” – were issued before the jury in the hacking trial had completed its work.
Although Coulson was found guilty of hacking, with Rebekah Brooks and three others all found not guilty on the charges against them, four other charges were still to be decided by the jury.
The judge said the premature Cameron-Miliband interventions had caused him concern.
Sir John [Saunders] said : ‘I don’t know whether it’s been done in ignorance or been done deliberately” adding “what happened is unsatisfactory so far as justice and the rule of law are concerned”.
He wrote to the Prime Minister requesting an explanation. Advised by Downing Street lawyers, Mr Cameron cited “intense media coverage and understandable public interest”, claiming he had “been careful” not to make comment on matters still before the court.
The judge however said Mr Cameron’s explanation “misses the point” and that the comments by the PM that Coulson had given him “assurances” about not knowing about hacking, had not been presented as evidence during the trial.
The judge said this was capable of “affecting” Coulson credibility during the jury’s deliberations.
Although an application to discharge the jury over the prejudicial comments was made by Coulson’s counsel, Timothy Langdale QC, the judge’s decision to dismiss it proved academic when the jury failed to reach majority verdicts on the outstanding charges and were formally discharged.
The Crown Prosecution Service is expected to announce on Monday whether it will seek a retrial for Clive Goodman, the former royal editor of the News of the World, and Coulson, over four charges of conspiring to commit misconduct in public office by paying royal police officers for internal royal phone directories.
Sentencing hearings on Coulson and five other former News International employees, who pleaded guilty to phone hacking before the trial proceedings began last October, will also begin on Monday.
The sentences are expected to be issued the following Friday.