Four Sun journalists accused of corrupting public officials face a retrial after a jury failed to reach verdicts following a three-month hearing.
Head of news Chris Pharo, ex-deputy news editor Ben O'Driscoll, reporter Jamie Pyatt and former managing editor Graham Dudman had been accused – along with two colleagues – of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office.
The defendants shook their heads as the foreman confirmed the 11 members of the jury had failed to reach verdicts despite 49 hours of deliberating at Kingston Crown Court.
For Pharo, Pyatt and Dudman the prospect of a retrial means an ordeal which began with their arrests three years will go on for many more months yet. O'Driscoll was charged in September 2013 after previously being questioned under caution.
Prosecutors said they would seek a retrial after the jury was discharged. Judge Richard Marks QC said the new trial should be held this year.
The prosecution – part of Scotland Yard's Operation Elveden – alleged that there was a culture of corruption "on a grand scale" at the tabloid newspaper and that the men used illegal payments to "steal a march" on their competitors.
The defendants denied all the charges and claimed they were "fed to the wolves" by News International to protect the company's reputation in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.
Two fellow defendants – the Sun's picture editor John Edwards and former reporter John Troup – were cleared of conspiring to commit misconduct in public office by the jury last Friday.
The judge said: "These defendants have had this hanging over them for a considerable amount of time.
"I know in some cases they have been suspended from work. The matter must be resolved one way or another, sooner or later."
The judge praised counsel, the defendants and their families, adding: "It is an unfortunate ending from their point of view, but these things do happen."
Edwards and Troup were among those in the public gallery.
Judge Marks also thanked the 11 jurors – reduced in number yesterday after one of the members was discharged due to ill health.
Stories were said to have involved details about Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe, pop star Mick Hucknall and murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, while prosecutors said information was sold to the newspaper by public officials, including police and prison staff.
Pharo, 45, of Sandhurst in Berkshire; Dudman, 51, of Brentwood in Essex; and O'Driscoll, 38, of Windsor in Berkshire, were all originally charged with three counts of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office. Pyatt, 51, also of Windsor, was charged with two counts each of the same offence.
O'Driscoll and Dudman were found not guilty of one of the charges last week, along with Edwards and Troup.
At least one of the defendants was in tears outside the courtroom as all four were released on bail.
Supporters hugged each other in silence around them.
Prosecutors will meet on 6 February to discuss a date for the retrial, which the judge said would be held at the Old Bailey.
All four defendants declined to comment as they left court.