LONDON – Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, a onetime aide to British Prime Minister David Cameron, was sentenced to 18 months in prison Friday for participating in a conspiracy to hack the phones of celebrities, politicians and crime victims.
Three other former journalists at the tabloid and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire all received shorter sentences.
Coulson was convicted last week after an eight-month trial stemming from revelations of illegal eavesdropping on mobile-phone voicemails by staff of the now-defunct Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper.
Another former editor, Rebekah Brooks, and four others were acquitted.
Judge John Saunders said Coulson “has to take the major share of the blame” for the vast amount of hacking that took place while he was editor between 2003 and 2007.
“He knew about it. He encouraged it when he should have stopped it,” the judge said.
The defendants have said they did not know phone hacking was illegal when they used the technique to get scoops on celebrities, royals and politicians. But the judge said they knew it was “morally wrong.”
The hacking revelations outraged many Britons, and triggered police inquiries that led to the arrest of scores of journalists, police officers and other officials.
This was the first major trial to stem from the scandal, and Saunders acknowledged “there will be those who will be outraged” the sentences were so short. But he said the legal maximum for phone hacking was two years in prison, regardless of the number of victims.
Saunders said he was reducing Coulson’s sentence from the maximum to reflect aspects of “good character” he had shown in helping others, and because the case had taken so long to get to court.
Coulson also faces a retrial on two charges of bribing police officers for royal phone directories.
The judge sentenced former journalists Greg Miskiw and Neville Thurlbeck to six months in prison, while another reporter, James Weatherup, received a suspended four-month sentence and community service.
All received shorter sentences because they had pleaded guilty.
Private eye Glenn Mulcaire, the newspaper’s chief phone hacker, received a suspended six-month sentence.
The judge said Mulcaire had carried out so much eavesdropping for the newspaper that he said he “couldn’t cope with being given more phones to hack.”
But Mulcaire has already been sent to prison once for hacking, in 2007, and pleaded guilty this time.
“Mr. Mulcaire, you are truly the lucky one,” the judge said.
Asked for his reaction, Cameron said Coulson’s sentence shows “no one is above the law.”