Andy Coulson cleared of perjury as trial collapses
Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson has been cleared of committing perjury while giving evidence in the 2010 trial of ex-MSP Tommy Sheridan.
The Crown alleged that Mr Coulson, 47, lied about his knowledge of phone hacking at the now-defunct tabloid.
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.
No appeal was made, and Mr Coulson was cleared more than three years after he was first charged.
Mr Coulson was editor of the News of the World from 2003 until 2007 when he resigned after royal editor Clive Goodman was convicted of phone hacking.
He become the Conservative Party's director of communications and later served as Prime Minister David Cameron's director of communications until January 2011.
Mr Coulson resigned as the phone hacking scandal gathered pace and was later arrested and convicted of conspiracy to intercept voicemails on mobile phones.
He was jailed for 18 months in July 2014 and released less than five months later.
Sheridan and Coulson timeline
- 2003 - Andy Coulson becomes News of the World (NotW) editor
- Aug 2006 - Tommy Sheridan wins defamation case against NotW
- Oct 2006 - Crown orders perjury probe on Sheridan case
- Jan 2007 - Coulson resigns from NotW after Clive Goodman phone hacking conviction
- Jul 2007 - Becomes Conservative Party director of communications
- May 2010 - Takes up a similar job in Downing Street
- Dec 2010 - Gives evidence at Sheridan perjury trial
- Jan 2011 - Sheridan jailed for perjury
- Jan 2011 - Resigns as David Cameron's director of communications
- July 2011 - Arrested over phone hacking
- May 2012: Charged with perjury over Sheridan evidence
- July 2014 - Jailed for 18 months over phone hacking
- June 2015 - Cleared of perjury over evidence at 2010 Sheridan trial
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.
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.
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".
He said a "detailed judgement and ruling" by Lord Bracadale, who presided over his perjury trial in 2010, which "clearly explains the relevancy and the competency of Andrew Coulson's evidence" had not been given to Lord Burns.
"I think the Crown Office has corruptly tried to hide the basis of the prosecution of myself and my wife," he said.
"They used evidence supplied to them by the News of the World...a corrupt and illegal unit that has now been closed.
"They used them to try and set me up, and they are trying to cover that up."
Mr Sheridan said the Crown had four years to prepare its case against Mr Coulson.
"Did they just realise last week that they had to prove relevancy as well?" he asked.
"They've spent over £1m of public money, thousands of police hours on a case that apparently they didn't know what they were doing.
"That is a shambles, and somebody's head has to roll."
Prosecutors in Scotland confirmed on Tuesday evening they had dropped charges against two other former executives of the News of the World.
Bob Bird, who had been editor of the newspaper's Scottish edition, had been charged with perverting the course of justice and his former news editor Douglas Wight with phone hacking and perjury.
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.