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'Unfit' defendant in British phone-hacking case dropped from trial

Ian Edmondson, former news editor at the News of the World arrives at the Old Bailey courthouse in London October 30, 2013. REUTERS/Neil Hal
Ian Edmondson, former news editor at the News of the World arrives at the Old Bailey courthouse in London October 30, 2013. REUTERS/Neil Hal

LONDON (Reuters) - Ian Edmondson, a former News of the World news editor accused of phone-hacking offences, is "currently unfit" to remain on trial with other senior ex-staff at Rupert Murdoch's now defunct British tabloid, a London court heard on Thursday.

Judge John Saunders told the jury at London's Old Bailey that Edmondson would face a new trial at a later date.

He had been facing a charge of conspiracy to intercept the communications of politicians, celebrities and members of the public alongside former editors Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson. Edmondson denies the charge.

Brooks, who went on to run the British newspaper arm of Murdoch's News Corp, and Coulson, later Prime Minister David Cameron's media chief, also deny the charge, as does the paper's former managing editor Stuart Kuttner.

"I have received and read a number of medical reports about the fitness of Mr Edmondson to continue to participate in the current trial," judge Saunders said.

"The consensus of opinion of doctors instructed both by the defense and the prosecution is that he is currently unfit."

Edmondson joined the paper as associate news editor in 2004 and was promoted to news editor the following year.

He was associate editor when he was sacked by the paper in 2011, a few months before Murdoch shut it down amid widespread public anger at the phone-hacking allegations.

The scandal sent shockwaves through the British establishment and Murdoch's media empire, revealing the close ties between press barons, police chiefs and senior politicians.

The jury has heard from a number of witnesses and been shown numerous internal emails from News International, News Corp's British paper arm, which the prosecution has argued show Brooks, Coulson, Kuttner and Edmondson knew about and sanctioned hacking.

Brooks, Coulson and the paper's former royal editor Clive Goodman also face charges over alleged illegal payments to public officials, while Brooks, her husband and two others are also accused to trying to pervert the course of justice.

The defense have yet to put their case to the court and the trial is expected to last until next April.

(Reporting by Kate Holton; Editing by John Stonestreet)

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