News of the World associate editor Clive Goodman was this week confined at Belmarsh maximum security prison after being found guilty of listening to the mobile phone messages of Royal aides.
The fact that Goodman’s jailing came the same day that a judge spared a child porn downloader from jail, because of prison overcrowding, was not lost on editor Andy Coulson.
The 38-year-old’s campaign for a Megan’s Law – enabling the public to know the whereabouts of known paedophiles – has been one of the key planks of his four-year editorship.
He assembled News of the World staff shortly after 6pm on Friday, just after Goodman’s four-month jail sentence was handed down, and told them of his decision to step down with immediate effect. According to News International, executive chairman Les Hinton had been told of Coulson’s decision to resign over the Goodman affair two weeks earlier.
Coulson told staff of his anger at the jailing of Goodman – in the light of Home Secretary John Reid’s advice that week to judges that only the most dangerous criminals should be jailed because of the current prison overcrowding problem.
In what one insider said was a ‘brief, but very emotional farewell”, Coulson went on to thank staff for their loyalty and explain the reasons behind his decision to resign. He would subsequently say in his public statement, he felt that Goodman’s actions were ‘entirely wrong”, adding: ‘I deeply regret that they happened on my watch. I also feel strongly that when the News of the World calls those in public life to account on behalf of its readers, it must have its own house in order.’
After talking to staff, Coulson returned to his office and left the News of the World building 15 minutes later, being noisily ‘banged out’by staff in the traditional manner. The last high-profile tabloid editor to lose his job after a public row was Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan, sacked in 2003 after publishing faked pictures of alleged torture by British troops.
Morgan, a former News of the World chief himself, told Press Gazette: ‘I am amazed that News International have allowed one of the best journalists I have ever worked with to leave at the peak of his powers.
‘Andy is a brilliant, instinctive editor who consistently broke huge stories, and I would expect him to land another big job very quickly. As for Clive Goodman, I feel a lot of sympathy for a man who has been the convenient fall-guy for an investigative practice that everyone knows was going on at almost every paper in Fleet Street for years.’
Unlike Coulson, Goodman was still employed by News International as Press Gazette went to press this week, but continued to be suspended – as he has been since he was first charged by police in August.
The veteran Royal Family reporter, 49, who has a wife and young child, is currently understood to be sharing a cell with a life prisoner at Belmarsh maximum security prison.
Once he has been processed it is anticipated that as an offender with minimal risk of escape he will be transferred to an open prison. But this move could be delayed because of the current prison overcrowding problem.
Despite Goodman’s early guilty plea and his co-operation with the police investigation, Mr Justice Ross indicated that the nature of his target made a custodial sentence necessary.
Goodman admitted making 487 calls to the private mobile phone voicemail message systems of Royal aides Helen Asprey, Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton and Paddy Harverson.
The judge said: ‘This case is not about press freedom. It is about grave, inexcusable and illegal invasion of privacy.
‘The targets were members of the Royal Family. The Royal Family holds a unique position in the life of this country. It is grave indeed.’The court also heard that private investigator Glen Mulcaire had a £104,000-a-year contract to supply ‘research and information services to the News of the World”.
Mulcaire aditionally admitted intercepting the voicemails of publicist Max Clifford, football agent Skylet Andrew, Professional Footballers Association chairman Gordon Taylor, MP Simon Hughes and model Elle Macpherson. He was sentenced to six months.