British prosecutors say no charges in phone-hacking scandal

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British prosecutors said Friday there was no evidence to bring charges over phone-hacking claims at a newspaper when it was edited by the man now employed as Prime Minister David Cameron's media chief.

Police revived an investigation into the hacking at the News of the World after it was reported in September that a former journalist at the Britain's biggest-selling paper said that then-editor Andy Coulson had encouraged him to hack voicemails.

But several witnesses had refused to testify, including Sean Hoare, the journalist cited in The New York Times newspaper article as making the allegation, Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer said in a statement Friday.

"In my opinion there is insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction against any person identified in the New York Times article," Starmer said.

"In fact I consider that the available evidence falls well below that threshold."

Coulson was editor of the News of the World, a Sunday tabloid owned by media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, when its royal correspondent was jailed for conspiracy to access mobile phone messages involving Princes William and Harry.

He resigned in 2007 over the affair, becoming communications chief for Cameron's Conservatives six months later, but has always insisted he did not know about the phone-hacking or authorise its use.

Coulson was interviewed as a witness at a voluntary meeting with officers from London's Metropolitan Police in November over the allegations.

Hoare alleged in the article in The New York Times -- currently engaged in a readership battle with the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal -- that Coulson had "actively encouraged" him to hack phone messages.

Starmer said that Hoare, "who made significant allegations in The New York Times and elsewhere, was interviewed by the police but refused to comment."

"A number of other witnesses were interviewed and either refused to cooperate with the police investigation, provided short statements which did not advance matters, or denied any knowledge of wrongdoing."

The Met Police said that its investigation into the case would "remain closed" in view of the prosecutor's advice.

© 2010 AFP

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