LONDON - It was a simple trick - punching in passcodes to listen to messages left on other people's phones.
For years the illegal technique, known as phone hacking, helped Britain's News of the World tabloid get juicy stories about celebrities, politicians and royalty.
But the fallout eventually led to the shutdown of the country's best-selling newspaper, split Rupert Murdoch's powerful media empire and brought a storm of outrage down on the country's rambunctious press.
On Tuesday, the scandal brought a criminal conviction for former editor Andy Coulson on a charge of conspiring to hack phones - and an apology from Prime Minister David Cameron, who employed Coulson as his spin doctor.
Fellow News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks, a Murdoch protege who was the chief executive of his British newspaper operation, was acquitted of all charges, as were her husband and three other defendants.
The nearly eight-month trial - one of the longest and most expensive in British history - was triggered by disclosures in 2011 about the scale of the News of the World's illegal eavesdropping.
Several reporters and editors at the tabloid have pleaded guilty to hacking, as has private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, who was paid almost 100,000 pounds (now about $168,000) a year by the paper for his scoop-gathering prowess.