Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Crown Case KO’d in Coulson Trial: Collapse of multi million pound perjury trial of Andy Coulson raises questions for Lord Advocate & calls to reform ‘institutionally corrupt’ Crown Office

Andy Coulson exits court after trial collapse. THE perjury trial of former News of the World Editor & No 10 adviser Andrew Coulson sensationally collapsed today after trial judge Lord Burns ruled there was no case to answer.

Now, Frank Mulholland - Scotland’s Lord Advocate in charge of the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) - faces questions over the millions of pounds of taxpayers money spent investigating & prosecution the perjury case – which – according to the ruling handed down by the judge - should not have ended up in court.

The Crown alleged that Mr Coulson, 47, lied about his knowledge of phone hacking at the now-defunct tabloid.

However, the case against him collapsed after his defence team successfully argued there was no case to answer.

Judge Lord Burns ruled the Crown had not shown Mr Coulson's evidence was relevant in the Sheridan trial.

Speaking outside the High Court in Edinburgh after his acquittal, Mr Coulson said: "I am obviously delighted by the judge's decision today. It was the right decision.

"This prosecution was always wrong. I didn't lie and the prosecution, in my view, was a gross waste of public money.

"I am just delighted that after four pretty testing years that my family and myself have finally had a good day."

Explaining his ruling, Lord Burns told the jury that perjury was the giving of false evidence under oath which is relevant to the issues in that trial.

He said the Crown needed to prove that Mr Coulson's allegedly false evidence in the 2010 Sheridan case was relevant to the issues in that trial, and that was for him as a judge to decide rather than the jury.

Lord Burns said that after two days of legal submissions the Crown had not satisfied him that Mr Coulson's evidence had been relevant.

The judge formally acquitted Mr Coulson on Monday, but the acquittal was suspended and could not be reported until Wednesday morning while the Crown decided whether it would appeal.

Clive Goodman and James Weatherup gave evidence at the trial

No appeal was made, and Mr Coulson was cleared more than three years after he was first charged.

The explanation to the jury given by Lord Burns:


I have acquitted the accused of the charge of perjury which he faced and that means that you will not have to return a verdict on the charge in the indictment.

You heard 5 days of oral evidence in the crown case. You have attended and then been sent away repeatedly since the end of the crown case last week and, during that time, what has been happening in this court has, quite deliberately, been kept from you, although you, as jurors, are the most important people in this room. You deserve an explanation of what has been going on. That involves going into some of the issues I have been discussing with Counsel in your absence.

As jurors you were responsible for the facts, I for the law. You were to decide whether the crown could prove that the accused committed perjury during Mr Sheridan's trial in 2010. I was to tell you about the law of perjury. I need to do so now, albeit briefly, to explain to you what has happened.

Perjury is the wilful giving of false evidence under oath or affirmation in judicial proceedings. An oath or affirmation binds the witness to tell the truth. If he gives evidence in a criminal trial or in civil proceedings which he knows to be false and which was relevant to the issues in that trial or civil proceedings, he is guilty of perjury.

Relevant means relevant either in proof of the charge against the accused in that trial or in relation to the credibility of the witness. Unlike the falsity of the evidence, the question of its relevance is a matter of law and therefore for the judge to decide on that matter and not the jury.

To prove the charge against Mr Coulson, the crown needed to prove that:

1 the accused gave evidence in court on oath at Mr Sheridan's trial. There was no dispute about that.

2. that he gave evidence that he knew to be false: that was to be for you to decide. A jury question

3. finally that the allegedly false evidence given by Mr Coulson was relevant to the issues which arose in Mr Sheridan's trial for perjury or Mr Coulson's credibility in the important evidence he gave at that trial. That was the matter of law for me. A judge's question. Relevancy is always a judge's question. Because it was a matter for the judge in the Sheridan trial, now that trial is over but is the subject of this trial, the relevancy of questions and answers in the Sheridan trial was a matter for me in this trial.

In 2010, Mr Sheridan had been on trial for perjuring himself when he gave evidence in the civil proceedings in his action for defamation against the News of the World. So the question of relevancy for me was whether the alleged false evidence given by Mr Coulson in that trial was relevant to the proof of Mr Sheridan's perjury or relevant to Mr Coulson's credibility as a witness in the perjury trial of Mr Sheridan. You will recall that Mr Coulson said in Mr Sheridan's perjury trial that the person speaking on a video tape was Mr Sheridan.

After two days of legal submissions last week and having considered the matter, I decided that the crown had not led sufficient evidence to satisfy me that the allegedly false evidence was relevant to proof of the charge in Mr Sheridan's trial or to Mr Coulson's credibility at that trial. 

There are various reasons given for that in my opinion which I don't need to go into now. But, if you want to read it, you will be able to access it on the Scottish Courts website shortly. Once discharged as jurors, you are allowed to do this sort of research.

So, after the crown case had finished last Tuesday, Mr MacLeod argued that the evidence set out in the charge page 1 of the indictment, even assuming it was false, was not relevant in the way that I have explained and so the accused could not be guilty of perjury. Not every lie amounts to perjury.

I was invited to acquit the accused on the basis that there was no case to answer. The Advocate Depute made submissions in support of the contrary position.

That debate took place on Wednesday and Thursday of last week. On Friday I asked you to come back on Monday since I needed some time to consider and decide the matter. On Monday, before you came into court, I issued my decision which was that the allegedly false evidence was not relevant in the trial of Mr Sheridan and that therefore the accused should be acquitted. So even if you answered your question by saying yes he lied, I would have had to answer my question: No. the lies were not relevant and do not amount to perjury. I therefore acquitted him on Monday.

When a judge does that, the Advocate Depute the right to ask for 2 days to consider whether to take an appeal against the decision to the appeal court. He made that request and I was required to suspend the acquittal in case the crown did appeal. Any successful appeal would have required you to resume your duties and to hear any defence evidence, speeches and my directions before considering your verdict.
The Advocate Depute was entitled to ask for that time I granted it. It meant that I had to ask you to return today.

The 2 day period has now elapsed. The crown do not propose to exercise their right of appeal. That means the accused is entitled to be acquitted.

During all this time it was essential that you, who might yet be required to consider and return a verdict on the charge, were not aware of any of this procedure or what was being said, in case it might influence you in any way, if the trial proceeded. So the press and all branches of the media were prohibited from publishing and reporting on the debate and the result. As is to be expected from responsible media organisations, no such information has been published or broadcast.

All this means that the trial is now over and you will not need to reach a verdict on the charge. I can discharge you.

But before I do so, I would like to thank you for the time you have devoted to the case and the attention you have paid to it. It is appreciated that jury service, even in a normal case, is a disruptive and a difficult task. This particular case has certainly been disruptive for you. But jury service is one of the most important public duties any citizen can perform. I am now able to discharge you and you go with the thanks of the court.

In the wake of the collapse of the Coulson trial, the Crown Office also announced it was dropping charges against the News of the World’s former Scottish editor Bob Bird and  senior reporter Douglas Wight.

The Crown Office said on Tuesday that, after "an extremely thorough investigation of these allegations", no criminal proceedings would be taken against either Mr Bird or Mr Wight.

This marks the end of charges brought as a result of the multi million pound Operation Rubicon, launched by Strathclyde Police in 2011 to investigate allegations of misconduct at Sheridan's trial. As a result, in 2012 seven Scottish police officers detained the former editor at his home in Dulwich, South London at 6.30am and drove him to Glasgow. Shortly afterwards he was arrested and charged.

Operation Rubicon’s English equivalent -  "Operation Elveden" run by the Crown Prosecution Service similarly collapsed. , costing the public over £20 million.

An urgent review of the £20 million investigation was ordered last month, after the Court of Appeal quashed the conviction of former News of the World reporter Lucy Panton, who was the first reporter to be found guilty.

Nine out of the remaining twelve prosecutions against journalists – which included Andy Coulson - have been dropped by the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the entire operation branded an expensive taxpayer funded political witch hunt against the media.

Four more reporters were cleared at the Old Bailey of bribing public officials, taking the total number found not guilty by a jury to 14


The timeline of the latest case against Mr Coulson can be traced back to 2006 when Mr Sheridan won a defamation case against the News of the World.

The politician was awarded £200,000 in damages over a series of articles in the newspaper that claimed he was an adulterer and had visited a swingers club.

In 2010, Mr Sheridan stood trial, accused of perjury in the 2006 case. He was subsequently convicted and jailed for three years.

While conducting his own defence during the trial, Mr Sheridan called Mr Coulson as a witness.

The evidence the journalist gave at the High Court in Glasgow on 9 and 10 December 2010 later prompted the Crown to accuse him of perjury.

The charge against Mr Coulson alleged that he committed perjury when he told Mr Sheridan's trial that he had not known about phone hacking at the News of the World until the arrest of the now-defunct tabloid's royal editor Clive Goodman in 2006.

During Mr Coulson's perjury trial, the Crown led evidence from Mr Goodman and fellow former News of the World journalists Neville Thurlbeck and James Weatherup, who are all convicted phone hackers.

After hearing the prosecution evidence, the jury of nine men and six women was sent from the court last week as defence advocate Murdo MacLeod QC outlined an argument that there was no case to answer.

Mr MacLeod noted that both Mr Sheridan and the Advocate Depute both said in their closing statements at the 2010 trial that the phone hacking testimony had little relevance to Mr Sheridan's defence.
'A shambles'

Responding to the acquittal, a Crown Office spokesman said: "Andrew Coulson was a defence witness at the trial of Tommy Sheridan. He gave his evidence without objection as to relevancy.

"The Crown indicted Coulson on the basis that he lied during parts of his evidence, in particular that he had no knowledge of phone hacking.

"The trial judge in the Coulson trial, at the conclusion of the prosecution evidence, ruled that this evidence was irrelevant and therefore could not found the basis for a prosecution for perjury. This brings proceedings to an end."

Reacting to Mr Coulson's acquittal, Mr Sheridan accused the Crown Office of "corruption" , presiding over "a shambles" and called for someone's "head to roll".

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