The last News of the World journalist to be punished in the long-running phone hacking saga heaped blame on his former boss Andy Coulson as he walked free from court.
Features editor Jules Stenson was spared jail at the Old Bailey after he admitted his part in eavesdropping on the voice mails of celebrities including actress Sienna Miller, TV personality Jade Goody and ex-England captain Steven Gerrard.
He is the ninth man to face punishment for the "dark art" which spawned a succession of sensational scoops in the Noughties but led to the Sunday tabloid's spectacular downfall in 2011.
Stenson accepted he was involved with recruiting "prolific" self-confessed hacker Dan Evans to the NotW from the Sunday Mirror.
But he insisted that Coulson was the "driving force" behind the move and put pressure on him to deliver in a fiercely competitive work environment - or face the sack.
Phone hacking was already widespread and on an industrial scale on the news desk before Evans began his "prolific" but comparatively short-lived spree for features from 2005.
Stenson broke down in the dock as Mr Justice Saunders told him he would suspend his four-month jail sentence for 12 months.
He was also ordered to complete 200 hours of unpaid work and pay £18,000 prosecution costs and £5,000 fine.
As he left court, the journalist apologised for his part in the scandal - but said Coulson was "primarily" to blame.
He said: "I just want to reiterate my apology to victims of hacking. It was wrong and it should never have happened and I have to hear the responsibility for that.
"I would like to thank the judge for his compassion and in particular would like to apologise to staff at the News of the World, 99% of whom had no involvement in hacking and had their lives severely affected by the action that we, but primarily Andy Coulson, took. They did not deserve that."
Last December, Stenson, 49, from Battersea, south west London, pleaded guilty to plotting to hack phones between January 1 2003 and January 26 2007 in the wake of a string of his former colleagues' convictions.
The court heard both Coulson and Stenson attended a breakfast meeting with Evans when they discussed phone hacking as they poached him from the Sunday Mirror.
At the time there was intense competition between the news and features desks and Stenson took the attitude that "if you can't beat them, join them".
When Evans began work in January 2005, Stenson handed him a contacts list to get him started, but the features writer used his own list of celebrities and TV personalities to hack.
Phone records showed that, in a seven-month period in 2006, Evans intercepted voice mails on 120 occasions.
Other famous names whose privacy was invaded by Evans were footballer Sol Campbell, manager Sven-Goran Eriksson and boxer Amir Khan.
Prosecutor Adrian Christopher QC said Evans always told his boss Stenson when information came from phone hacking so he could gauge its reliability.
When royal reporter Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were caught hacking in 2006, Stenson told Evans there should be "no more hooky stuff".
Evans duly stopped, but started up again in 2009 when he was caught red-handed by Ms Miller's stepmother, interior designer Kelly Hoppen, the court heard.
In mitigation, his lawyer, James Hines QC, told the court that Stenson, a father-of-three, was put under intense pressure by Coulson but denied sending Evans an email telling him to "jump off a cliff" if he failed to produce good stories.
But Mr Justice Saunders observed that there was intense competition between newspapers at the time and it seemed "everyone's putting pressure on everyone, I suspect".
Mr Hines, who called for a suspended sentence, said that Stenson "deeply regrets" his involvement in the conspiracy and is "truly sorry".
In his final sentencing remarks in the NotW legal saga, Mr Justice Saunders said that despite public interest "waning" since the public condemnation of the Milly Dowler hacking in 2011, he must still do justice between defendants.
He said: "It would be quite wrong for me to say that, as it has gone on so long and public interest is less, those convicted at the end of the series of trials should receive shorter sentences than those who were arrested earlier and sentenced in a blaze of publicity."
However, the judge took account of Stenson's guilty plea and said there were distinctions between his case and the others who worked on the news desk.
He said: "Phone hacking was a well established means of getting stories at the NotW before Mr Stenson became involved. He was put in a position of competing with people working on the news desk who he knew were phone hacking and his editor condoned the practice.
"It is likely that if he had not come up with stories, Jules Stenson would have lost his job. Further, the period over which the features department were phone hacking was comparatively short and there was only one person doing it - Dan Evans."
Mr Justice Saunders repeated his earlier comments on the "irony" of the phone hacking cases - that of all the defendants whose vocation was to "reveal information that the public have a right to know but others wish to keep secret" only Evans was prepared to speak up about what went on in court.
As Mr Justice Saunders marked the end of his two-year involvement in the phone-hacking cases, he praised all the lawyers for the "gold standard" work.
He also expressed his gratitude to court staff and journalists who had covered the cases in court.