Phone hacking trial: After eight months, jury today begins sifting the mountain of evidence

Judge says they are under no pressure of time to reach a verdict

Political Correspondent

They are the two words the jury in the phone hacking trial may have waited months to hear. At 3.15pm in court 12 of the Old Bailey, Mr Justice Saunders said: “And finally.”

Fifteen minutes later the jury of three men and eight women, who have been in court almost every day since last October, stood up, turned left, and headed to the back room where today they settle down to considering the verdicts of seven defendants.

The trial of Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and five others – all charged in connection with alleged illegality inside Rupert Murdoch’s now-defunct News of the World tabloid – may already have become the longest criminal trial in English history.

A previous trial known as the “Stoke Newington Eight” lasted from May till 7 December 1972. The phone hacking trial has already passed that length. The jury’s deliberations will add to the months already chalked up. To assist the jury’s decisions, the lead prosecutor, Andrew Edis QC, explained how an “electronic paperclip”, a specialist hard-drive searching device, would enable them to search through the growing mountain of documents, folders, bundles and lists, that have covered every inch of the packed court’s desk and floor space for months. The judge described the evidence the jury will now pore over as “absolutely voluminous”.

How long will they take? Mr Justice Saunders told them: “You are under no pressure of time”. He hinted at the scale of the task ahead, saying: “If you wish to sit late [beyond the regular 4.30pm cut-off] you can. But don’t underestimate how tiring this will be.”

He told the jurors that to reach “true verdicts” they must only consider the evidence they have heard in the court. “Anything outside disregard,” he directed. The traditional warnings routinely heard throughout the Central Criminal Court were also delivered: you are now one, a jury, you must act together, 11 of you will decide, don’t discuss matters separately.

But there was a departure for this record-breaking trial because of the scale of the evidence to be considered. Mr Justice Saunders said at this closing stage juries are usually asked to “gather up all the papers” and take them to the jury room. “That will be inappropriate in this case,” he said. The judge’s forecast last October that the hacking trial would be “long” proved accurate. Then, he told the jury that if they knew anything about the case already, because it was “big news”, then they should forget it. He promised “What happens here will be memorable enough.” It was.

Mrs Brooks, the former chief executive of News International, Andy Coulson, the former editor of the NOTW and David Cameron’s former communications chief in 10 Downing Street, along with the former managing editor of the NOTW, Stuart Kuttner are charged with conspiracy to intercept phone messages.

Mr Coulson and Clive Goodman, the former royal editor of the NOTW, are charged with conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office by paying a royal police officer for phone directories. Mrs Brooks also charged with paying an MoD official for stories and, along with her former personal assistant Cheryl Carter, of involvement in a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by destroying or removing evidence that would have been of interest to the police investigating illegality inside the NOTW.

Along with her husband, Charlie Brooks, and Mark Hanna, the former head of security at NI, they are charged with perverting the course of justice by concealing documents, computers and other electronic equipment, from the police. All the charges are denied.

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