The editor of Britain's News of the World newspaper resigned on Friday after the Sunday paper's royal reporter was jailed for four months in one of the biggest privacy and newspaper scandals of recent years.
Andy Coulson stepped down after Clive Goodman admitted colluding with a freelance investigator to intercept more than 600 mobile phone messages left for three senior officials in the royal household. Coulson said he accepted "ultimate responsibility" for his reporter's actions.
The ruse, which ended in Goodman's "humiliation and disgrace," involved the casual breach of security arrangements put in place by the main mobile phone companies, yielding information that was then used to produce exclusive stories for the News of The World.
His lawyers told the court he became desperate for information because he was sidelined on the paper and felt his stellar career was on the wane. He paid the investigator Glenn Mulcaire ?12,000 (US$23,500) for his role in the eavesdropping -- money that was then reclaimed from News International. But it also emerged that Mulcaire had a formal relationship with the newspaper and a lucrative contract worth more than ?100,000 a year to provide "information and research." Mulcaire was jailed for a total of six months.
Palace officials alerted the police when they realized that someone was accessing their voicemails before they had retrieved them. Mulcaire used similar techniques to eavesdrop on five other prominent figures in the search for stories about them. They were the publicist Max Clifford, opposition Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament Simon Hughes, model Elle Macpherson, professional footballer representative Gordon Taylor and sports agent Skylet Andrew. In total he intercepted 66 of their calls.
Passing sentence, Justice Gross said: "This was serious criminal conduct of which we must not become numbed. It is of the very first importance to the integrity of our public life that such intrusive, sustained and criminal conduct should be marked unambiguously by loss of liberty."
He said members of the royal family hold a "unique position in the life of this country."
The judge said the "intrinsically serious and unattractive nature" of the offense meant immediate custody was inevitable.
Goodman stood impassively as the sentence was passed. Goodman and Mulcaire admitted conspiracy to intercept communications last November, avoiding the need for a trial.
The sentencing trained a harsh light on the practices and imperatives of some forms of red-top (downmarket tabloid) journalism.
Goodman, according to his barrister, John Kelsey-Fry QC, was a journalist of integrity and high professional reputation.
"Goodman was the top royal reporter in the country," he said. "He was respected, rewarded and commended by his peers ... But by January 2005 the position was very different. His stories were not considered adequate by his superiors. He was demoted and sidelined and another younger reporter was appointed to follow the royal family. He was under intense pressure to produce and feared for his job."