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LONDON – The judge in the phone hacking trial has criticized British Prime Minister David Cameron for apologizing for employing Andy Coulson on Tuesday before the jury had reached a verdict on two final counts in the trial.
The apology came after Coulson, a former News of the World editor and former communications director for Cameron, was found guilty on a count of conspiring to hack phones. The jury couldn’t reach a verdict on two bribery charges against Coulson and Clive Goodman, the former royal editor of the NOTW, on Tuesday and Wednesday, which led to the judge’s decision to discharge the jury.
The prosecution must now decide whether to pursue a retrial on the two counts.
Judge John Saunders told the court on Wednesday that he was “very concerned” about Cameron’s comments, arguing that he led the way to an “open season” of commentary while the jury was still deliberating the two other charges, The Independent reported.
The judge said he asked the prime minister for an explanation, with his office saying: ”He did this in the light of the intense media coverage and understandable public interest,” The Independent quoted the judge as saying.
Saunders said that explanation “missed the point,” though, and concluded: “My sole concern is to ensure that justice is done. Politicians have other imperatives and I understand that. Whether the political imperative was such that statements could not await all the verdicts, I leave to others to judge.”
The jury was “deep in an analytical discussion” on the evidence and should be allowed to continue, he ruled, according to the paper.
Cameron’s office also said he had taken “the best legal advice” before making his comments.
The Independent quoted Coulson’s lawyer as saying Wednesday in court: “This was an extraordinary situation where the ill-advised and premature intervention by the prime minister and others to avoid political damage or make political capital is almost impossible for the jury to ignore. It strikes at the heart of justice.”
He added: “It is astonishing, we say unprecedented, for a prime minister to make public comments of such a crucial juncture in trial proceeding.”
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