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  1. Media Law
June 30, 2014updated 01 Jul 2014 2:30pm

Former News of the World chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck offers ‘unqualified apology’ to the Dowler family

By William Turvill and Press Association

Former News of the World chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck has offered an 'unqualified apology' to the Dowler family for his involvement in the hacking of Milly Dowler's mobile phone.

In a sentencing hearing, the Old Bailey heard that former editor Andy Coulson and three of his most senior staff "utterly corrupted" the News of the World at the highest level and presided over phone-hacking on an industrial scale.

Coulson, 46, had denied plotting to hack phones between 2000 and 2006 but was found guilty following a marathon Old Bailey trial which went on for 139 days.

He was joined in the dock for sentencing today by three ex-news editors – Neville Thurlbeck, Greg Miskiw and James Weatherup – and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire who all pleaded guilty to phone-hacking before the trial began last year.

They now face up to two years in jail for their part in the plot which the prosecution said involved a veritable "Who's Who of Britain" having their private lives invaded through voicemail interception.

Previously, the NoW had insisted phone-hacking was the work of one "rogue reporter", Clive Goodman who was convicted of phone-hacking with Mulcaire in 2006.

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Prosecutor Andrew Edis QC said: "Anyone who has ever suggested or believed or been told that phone-hacking that was revealed in 2006/7 was the work of a single rogue reporter needs to look carefully at this dock in which there are four employees of the NoW and only one of them can be described as a reporter, Thurlbeck who was chief reporter."

He went on: "The newsdesk editor job was described as being the hub or engine room of the paper therefore all of these four defendants can be described as highly paid and influential employees of a national newspaper.

"Between them these defendants utterly corrupted this newspaper which became at the highest level a criminal enterprise.

"This was systemic misconduct approved and participated in by the editor himself."

In mitigation, Mulcaire's lawyer said he had already been jailed for phone-hacking in 2007 when many of the victims in the fresh inquiry were known about by police.

Since he served his time in jail, the married 43-year-old had not only faced bankruptcy but also become the "personification" of the NoW scandal in the media.

His lawyer Gavin Millar QC said: "Of course he has to accept such is life and this is a conspiracy of his involvement before 2006 but we say that the court should recognise that all of that happened and Mr Mulcaire uniquely and unilaterally over this period was named and shamed in the media as effectively the personification of the phone-hacking scandal and that placed a huge pressure on Mr Mulcaire and his family during those years."

Following the 2011 police investigation, Mulcaire, 43, from Sutton in Surrey, admitted three further counts of conspiring to phone-hack plus a fourth count of hacking the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler in 2002 – an act which eventually led to the downfall of the NoW in 2011.

NoW's news editor Miskiw, 64, from Leeds, chief reporter Thurlbeck, 52, of Esher, Surrey, and Weatherup, 58, of Brentwood in Essex, have all admitted one general count of conspiring together and with others to illegally access voicemails between October 2000 and August 2006.

Miskiw's lawyer Trevor Burke QC asked the judge to take account of his early guilty plea and the fact he had expressed "genuine remorse".

The journalist began his career in Wolverhampton in 1970 and finished it at a newspaper in Florida in 2011 when he voluntarily returned to the UK for questioning.

He cares for his elderly mother and supports a 13-year-old son, Burke said. Miskiw, who suffers from health problems, lives off a "modest pension" and has "no real prospects", his lawyer said.

Thurlbeck took full responsibility for his actions and apologised to all the victims for their distress, the court heard.

His lawyer Hugh Davies QC said: "He, Thurlbeck, is no apologist for what occurred or the other unacceptable industry practices at the time.

"Some of what went on was intrinsically wrong."

The lawyer said at the time there was a mistaken view in the industry that voicemail interception was not criminal and could be justified in the public interest.

Davies added: "As to phone-hacking, he did not introduce the practice to the newspaper industry.

"He did not introduce it to the NoW. He did not introduce Mr Mulcaire to the NotW."

Thurlbeck offered an "unqualified apology" to the Dowlers.

On the hacking of Blunkett's voicemail to Quinn, he maintained there was some public interest. But it was Coulson's decision as editor to run a different story which did not include those aspects.

Davies went on to reject Coulson's evidence that he told Thurlbeck to stop using phone-hacking when he heard about the Blunkett voicemail in 2004.

He said: "That is simply not accurate. No such disapproval of the practice was given by Mr Coulson. There was no direction to stop."

The court heard the married father-of-two had been nominated for and won numerous national awards. But the hacking case had effectively destroyed his professional reputation.

Weatherup only instructed Mulcaire to hack phones because it was the "standing policy" of the NoW at the time, his lawyer said.

Charles Bott QC blamed more senior staff at the newspaper for encouraging the practice.

The lawyer said these people had actively condoned it as an "expedient and cost effective" way of gathering stories.

He said: "At the time of Mr Weatherup's offending we say phone-hacking was endemic.

"Secondly we say the ultimate responsibility for that lay at senior editorial levels.

"Thirdly the suggestion that phone-hacking was the responsibility of a small clique of news editors is falsely misleading.

"We have gone from rogue reporter to rogue reporter-plus but neither of those reflect the truth."

He said phone-hacking was "condoned and encouraged by senior managers" of the NoW because it was seen as "expedient and cost effective".

Weatherup had pleaded guilty on the basis that he tasked the private detective but he did not do any hacking himself.

Bott said his client had a relatively short career on the NoW newsdesk and he did not like Coulson's personal style or manner.

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