LONDON — Former British tabloid editor Rebekah Brooks was cleared in a London court of all charges related to a phone-hacking case that raised serious questions about the news-gathering conduct of journalists working for the media empire of Rupert Murdoch.
Andy Coulson, her former colleague and an former tabloid editor himself, was found guilty of one charge of conspiring to hack phones. Coulson was previously British Prime Minister David Cameron's communications chief.
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Both had denied any involvement in taking part or authorizing phone hacking — an illegal activity that involves listening in on voice mails — while working at the Murdoch-owned News of the World and Sun tabloids.
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Dozens of high-profile celebrities and even the royal family were targeted by the practice while the pair were employed at the publications.
Reports from inside the trial at London's Old Bailey court said that Brooks was overcome by emotion as the not guilty verdict was read out and that she appeared to mouth a "thank you" to the 11-member jury. Coulson showed little reaction.
The scandal led Murdoch, who also owns the Times of London and the Sky News broadcast service in the U.K., to shut down the 168-year-old News of the World. Murdoch's News Corp. also owns the New York Post.
"We said long ago, and repeat today, that wrongdoing occurred, and we apologized for it. We have been paying compensation to those affected and have cooperated with investigations," said News UK, the United Kingdom operation of News Corp, in a statement issued Tuesday. "We made changes in the way we do business to help ensure wrongdoing like this does not occur again."
Dozens of journalists and officials have been arrested and questioned as part of the probe, and the trial has been going on for over eight months. Jurors will resume deliberations Wednesday on two charges still pending against Coulson and former royal editor Clive Goodman.
In a statement broadcast after the verdict, Cameron apologized for hiring Coulson as his communications director — a post he held after he left journalism. "It turned out to be a bad decision," Cameron said.
Brooks' husband Charles, her former secretary Cheryl Carter and News International security chief Mark Hanna were acquitted of charges related to attempting to hide evidence from police. Stuart Kuttner, formerly managing editor of News of the World, was found not guilty of phone hacking.
Neither Brooks nor Coulson has yet to make a statement.
The prosecution and defense both accepted that phones were hacked on a large scale and News U.K., the publisher of the-now disbanded News of the World, admitted that wrongdoing had occurred and has been paying victims compensation.
"I was surprised because of the extent of the evidence that became public," said Katharine Sarikakis, professor of media governance at the University of Vienna in Austria who has studied the British press. "In terms of the law, evidence in front of (the jury) wasn't convincing enough. This doesn't mean she has behaved ethically."
With the case stirring headlines worldwide and frank public discussions about the powers of the U.K. media, the tabloids in the country will tamp down on some "extreme" measures of gathering information, Sarikakis says.
British tabloid editors underwent a similar period of reckoning following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997, but their aggressive, ethically questionable practices eventually reemerged, she says.
"But I'm not sure how long this would last," Sarikakis says. "The crisis has been a good thing in the sense it made people ask difficult questions. But in the long term, I don't think this by itself will change fundamentally what goes on."
Contributing: Roger Yu