It was shortly before noon when news broke yesterday that a jury had found the former News of the World Editor Andy Coulson guilty of hacking phones, and at the same time cleared Rebekah Brooks and others on trial of all charges against them. And while we still await two further counts against Mr Coulson and Clive Goodman, the paper’s former Royal Editor, relating to making payments to public officials for information, the verdicts bring a dark chapter in the media closer to an end.
The phone hacking scandal has hung over the industry since 2005, when Mr Goodman broke a story about Prince William needing surgery on a knee injury. He was arrested, along with private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, in 2006 and the pair were eventually found guilty in January 2007 and jailed. Andy Coulson, who was appointed as Editor of the paper in 2003, resigned after the convictions, saying he had no knowledge of the offences but that he should take responsibility.
Sadly, subsequent developments have disproved initial claims by News International, which owned News of the World, that this was an isolated incident, tarnishing the rest of print journalism in the process and contributing to calls for a new regulatory body to hold the press to account.
While press behaviour has improved in recent years, yesterday’s verdicts must serve as a reminder that as editors (and deputies) we are accountable for the actions of our journalists. And no matter what body is finally installed to replace the Press Complaints Commission, there is no greater regulator than the law.