LONDON (AP) — Britain's epic tabloid phone-hacking trial ended Wednesday with a hung jury on two final counts — and a judge's rebuke for Prime Minister David Cameron, whose televised comments about the case while it was still underway almost scuttled proceedings.
Cameron is already under pressure for his ties to the only person convicted at the trial, former News of the World tabloid editor — and ex-Downing Street communications director — Andy Coulson.
Coulson's conviction for conspiracy to hack phones was also unwelcome news for Rupert Murdoch, his former employer, and raises the possibility of a corporate prosecution for Murdoch's media behemoth, News Corp.
Senior Murdoch executives have already been questioned by U.K. police investigating wrongdoing at his British tabloids and the Guardian newspaper reported Wednesday that detectives want to question Murdoch "under caution" — meaning as a potential suspect.
Neither the police nor News Corp. would comment on that report.
On Tuesday, a jury at London's Old Bailey unanimously convicted Coulson of conspiring to hack phones. Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of Murdoch's British newspapers, was acquitted on charges related to phone hacking, bribing officials and obstructing police. Her husband Charlie Brooks and three of her former employees also were cleared.
Media industry analyst Claire Enders said Murdoch and his executives would likely be relieved, even with the mixed verdicts.
"The conviction of Andy Coulson has definitely created the possibility of a corporate prosecution," Enders said. "But that is a small worry compared to what would have occurred if Rebekah Brooks had been found guilty. The charges of which she was acquitted, in particular perverting the course of justice, would have been difficult to shift from her ultimate boss."
Judge John Saunders ended the trial on Wednesday — the 139th day of proceedings — after jurors said they could not agree on whether Coulson and ex-News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman were guilty on two counts of paying police officers for royal phone directories. Prosecutors plan to announce Monday whether they will seek a retrial on those charges.
Coulson, who served as Cameron's communications chief between 2007 and 2011, faces up to two years in jail on the hacking charge. He is due to be sentenced next week, along with five former News of the World staffers who pleaded guilty before the trial began.
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