Senior managers "condoned and encouraged" the endemic practice of phone hacking at the News of the World, a court has been told.
Former news editors who admitted their part in the long-running hacking plot heaped blame yesterday on their own bosses ahead of their sentencing at the Old Bailey on Friday.
Neville Thurlbeck, Greg Miskiw, James Weatherup, and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire joined former editor Andy Coulson in the dock as their lawyers spoke in mitigation on their behalf.
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Coulson, 46, denied conspiring to hack phones between 2000 and 2006 but was found guilty after a 139-day trial. Co-defendants Rebekah Brooks and managing editor Stuart Kuttner were cleared.
In mitigation, lawyers for two out of three of the ex-News of the World newsdesk staff implicated more senior executives of the newspaper, who cannot be named for legal reasons.
The paper had insisted phone hacking was the work of one rogue reporter, Clive Goodman, who was convicted of hacking with Mulcaire in 2006.
The defendants now face up to two years in jail for their part in the plot which the prosecution said involved a veritable "Who's Who of Britain" having their private lives invaded.
Prosecutor Andrew Edis QC said: "Anyone who has ever suggested or believed or been told phone hacking that was revealed in 2006 to 2007 was the work of a single rogue reporter needs to look carefully at this dock in which there are four employees of [the paper], and only one of them can be described as a reporter, Thurlbeck, who was chief reporter."
"The newsdesk editor job was described as being the hub or engine room of the paper. Therefore all of these four defendants can be described as highly paid and influential employees of a national newspaper.
"Between them these defendants utterly corrupted this newspaper, which became at the highest level a criminal enterprise. This was systemic misconduct approved and participated in by the editor himself."
Thurlbeck's lawyer implicated more senior staff. He said Coulson was not truthful in his evidence about David Blunkett's 2004 voicemail declaring his love for Spectator publisher Kimberly Quinn.
Coulson had told the jury he was shocked and angry when he found out about it from Thurlbeck and told him to stop phone hacking. But Hugh Davies QC said there was no such direction.
Weatherup only instructed Mulcaire to hack phones because it was "standing policy," his lawyer said.
The paper's news editor Miskiw, 64, from Leeds; chief reporter Thurlbeck, 52, of Esher, Surrey, and Weatherup, 58, of Brentwood in Essex have all admitted one general count of conspiring together and with others to illegally access voicemails.
Meanwhile, Coulson's legal woes continued when he was told he would face a re-trial over charges of plotting to bribe corrupt officials while he was an editor at the News of the World. The jury was last week discharged after failing to reach a verdict.