Hacking trial: Legal battle set to cost taxpayers millions of pounds

 

Political Correspondent

A legal battle between Rupert Murdoch’s News UK and England’s prosecuting authorities over the “astronomical” costs of the record-breaking phone hacking trial will involve “millions of pounds of taxpayers' money”.

In the final mitigation hearing before sentence is passed on Andy Coulson and four others this Friday, the judge who presided over the record-breaking hacking trial, said  a “detailed examination” on what costs could be reclaimed by those found not guilty of offences following the conclusion of the eight month long trial, would now begin.

The legal fees covering five of the seven defendants in the trial were paid for by News Corp. The final bills have yet to be determined but the total is likely to be above £60m.

Andrew Edis QC, the prosecution’s leading counsel, said claims being argued over centered on “millions of pounds of taxpayers' money”.

Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of News International, her husband, Charlie, her former assistant, Cheryl Carter, along with the News of the World’s former managing editor, Stuart Kuttner, and NI’s former head of security, Mark Hanna, were acquitted of the charges against them.

Four former NOTW journalists and the paper’s private investigator pleaded guilty to criminal offences before the trial began. Coulson, a former NOTW editor who later became David Cameron’s communication’s chief, was found guilty of conspiracy to illegally intercept voicemails.

Coulson is expected to be asked to shoulder the bulk of a £750,00 bill the court identified on Monday as one cost element of the trial. The overall prosecution costs total was identified at £1.7m.

As the former Number 10 spin doctor is in no position to find that amount, the prosecution authorities are looking to Mr Murdoch’s UK company – who funded his defence – to pay up.

Coulson used two leading criminal barristers, QCs Clare Montgomery and Timothy Langdale, during the 138-day trial and at pretrial hearings. Junior counsel, further support staff, a team of solicitors and huge retainers given the length of the trial, is likely have pushed his costs close to £15,000 a day.

Coulson forced News Group Newspapers (NGN) to fund his defence after taking the issue to the Court of Appeal. The outcome of the trial may affect the scale of what  the Murdoch company is prepared to pay.

Andrew Edis, chief prosecution lawyer (Getty) Andrew Edis, chief prosecution lawyer (Getty)
Although Mrs Brooks and the others found not guilty are expected to mount a challenge over their substantial costs, the CPS told The Independent that unless it could be proved there had been an “unnecessary prosecution” or misconduct carried out on behalf of the CPS, then Mrs Brooks and the others would not be able to claim back the full costs of their defence. Limited expenses and other capped legal aid funding could however apply to part of her costs.

During the trial, Mr Justice Saunders described the costs of the trial as “astronomical”.

At the mitigation hearing, Coulson’s leading counsel, Timothy Langdale, said his client’s name had become a “lightning conductor” for the phone hacking scandal and may, as a result, pay a higher price in sentencing.

Although Mr Langdale said the court had endeavoured to keep party politics out of the trial, the political commentator and former editor of the Conservative-supporting Spectator magazine, Matthew d’Ancona, appeared as a supporting witness for Coulson.

Mr d’Ancona – without naming Alistair Campbell or Damian McBride who worked for Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – said Coulson had restored “public values” to the job of spin doctor which had been “tarnished” by previous incumbents.

Mr Langdale said Coulson had not knowingly flouted the law and had not been told hacking was a criminal offence. He said Coulson had not “utterly corrupted” the NOTW and the prosecution’s description of the Murdoch-owned paper as a “criminal enterprise” was “thoroughly unfair”.

Andrew Edis QC, the lead prosecutor, said Coulson had spoken to an NI lawyer during the period when hacking was an extensive practice inside the NOTW, “so he would have known”.

Sentencing takes place on Friday.

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