Friday, October 23, 2015

Witch-hunt against British journalists collapses

The establishment wanted to shut their revelations up

The last two Sun journalists to be prosecuted under the 'cash-for-stories' probe have slammed the amount of money spent on the investigation after being cleared of paying a corrupt police officer for stories.

Following a retrial at the Old Bailey news editor Chris Pharo, 46, and district reporter Jamie Pyatt, 52, were today found not guilty of aiding and abetting a Surrey police officer to commit misconduct in a public office between 2002 and 2011.

Mr Pharo's lawyer Nigel Rumfitt QC told the court there had been a 'monumental error of judgment in pursuing the case', while the journalists themselves questioned why they were being prosecuted for 'doing their job'.

The jury was not told the officer at the heart of the case, Simon Quinn, of Horsham, West Sussex, had pleaded guilty to the offence and been jailed for 18 months earlier this year.

The two men were accused of encouraging PC Quinn to leak inside information to the tabloid newspaper on celebrity arrests and notorious crimes.

The Surrey officer pocketed £10,000 from The Sun for his information, including tips on the hunt for schoolgirl Milly Dowler and the arrests of stars Dane Bowers and Chris Tarrant.

The confidential dealings of the defendants with public officials came to light in the wake of News International's decision to hand over emails to police after it became embroiled in the 2011 phone hacking scandal.

Outside court, the two men embraced as they told of their four-year long Elveden 'nightmare' and questioned why £30 million of taxpayers' money had been spent on prosecuting people for 'doing their job'.

Mr Pharo said: 'It's the end of a four-year long nightmare for Jamie and I but it's extended way beyond just us.

'It's damaged our families, our friends and the true human cost to everybody caught up in Operation Elveden is incalculable.

'I want to ask one simple question: how could anyone imagine spending more than £30 million over four years prosecuting journalists for doing their job was remotely in the public interest?'

Today's verdicts bring to a close a string of trials against tabloid journalists, the majority of whom worked for The Sun or the now defunct News Of The World.

Out of the 29 cases against journalists, only Sun crime reporter Anthony France has been successfully convicted by a jury.

By contrast, some 26 public officials have been convicted following the £20 million Metropolitan Police investigation into newspapers' activities.

The jury deliberated for nearly 12 hours and today's verdict was greeted by cheers from supporters and colleagues.

Pharo broke down in tears as he was released from the dock, and hugged his wife Jen as he left.

Jamie Pyatt gave a thumbs up sign to his family in the public gallery and embrace colleagues sitting in the well of the court.

During the trial Pyatt, a veteran Thames Valley district reporter, told jurors he was entitled to pay the officer as he was acting in the public interest.

Pharo, the paper's Head of News, accused his former bosses of trying to make him into a scapegoat for The Sun's cash payment system.  

Both men were charged under the Met's controversial £20m Operation Elveden, which has been dubbed a 'politically motivated witch-hunt'.

Pharo was the news editor throughout Rebekah Brooks' six year tenure as editor of The Sun, and complained bitterly that he had been 'hung out to dry' to save others from prosecution.

The verdicts sound the death knell for Operation Elveden, nearly four years after it after it was launched in the wake of the phone hacking scandal.

Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders has resisted calls for her resignation over her handling of the investigation, and will face fresh pressure in the wake of today's verdicts.

Pyatt, a Sun veteran of more than 25 years, was one of the first journalists arrested by Elveden detectives, but - with Pharo - is the last to be acquitted.

During nearly four years on bail, Pyatt and Pharo endured a four-and-a-half month long trial at Kingston Crown Court last winter, and then had to wait another year for their retrial.

Pharo, during his evidence, lifted the lid on Brooks' newsroom, revealing her position as Rupert Murdoch's 'surrogate daughter' and her penchant for foul-mouthed temper tantrums at her staff.

He said she would deluge him with 20 abusive emails a day, dubbed him an 'idiot news editor' in a missive to all News International staff, and once threw a phone at a journalist who failed to deliver on a story.

He revealed to jurors that Mrs Brooks had a punch bag in her office to 'relieve tension', she would 'explode' in editorial meetings and could 'sulk for days' over missed stories.

He said when the News of the World broke the exclusive story that David Blunkett was having an affair with a married woman, staff received a text from Mrs Brooks.

He said: 'At 11am we all received a text message and it said something along the lines of 'yet again I have to pick up this morning's NotW and it contains another agenda setting story'.

'If you f****** c***s are not capable of matching them, I will sack the lot of you and replace you with them.'

Mrs Brooks was cleared of all wrongdoing following a trial last year which also saw Andy Coulson - her former on-off lover - jailed for the wide-ranging phone hacking plot.

During the trial Pyatt openly admitted paying the money to Quinn, knowing it was to a serving police officer, but argued that the type of stories justified his actions.

He paid for pictures of Trophy rapist Tony Imiela, Freddy Krueger killer Daniel Gonzalez, and the prime suspect in the attack on pregnant mother Abigail Witchalls.

Quinn also leaked information on the rape arrest of singer Mick Hucknall, the witness statements from a rape case, and news of Another Level singer Dane Bower's drink driving arrest.

Pyatt said his conduct was sanctioned by Sun bosses, who had passed Quinn to him as a source in the first place.

Pharo said he was too busy to read many of Pyatt's emails, but had no idea that a police officer was being paid and would have informed Brooks immediately if he had found out. 'It was not my job to police The Sun newsroom', he told the jury.

Mr Rumfitt QC, defending Pharo, dubbed Operation Elveden 'the longest running farce in London' and said: 'A financially hard-pressed police force devoted twice the number of police officers normally used to investigate a murder to investigate 100 suspects, many of them journalists.

'All of those resources, dawn raids, long trials culminated in mass acquittals of journalists who should never have been prosecuted in the first place.'

Pharo, of Wapping, east London, and Pyatt, of Windsor, denied aiding and abetting misconduct in public office.

Out of the 29 cases against journalists, only one reporter has been successfully convicted by a jury

 In April this year prosecutors dropped a raft of cases after Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders was forced into a humiliating climbdown when a jury threw out yet another Old Bailey case.

She abandoned the trials of nine reporters accused of illegally paying public officials for information, finally admitting there was little appetite among the public for journalists who expose matters of public interest to be jailed.

Her decision sparked an ugly blame game as the architects of the £20million ‘politically-motivated witch hunt’ turned against each other.

Prosecutors and police pointed the finger at the Leveson inquiry and MPs for whipping up a storm of hysteria over the work of the Press.

And Scotland Yard highlighted how their inquiries were possible only thanks to millions of confidential emails released by News International.

The landmark U-turn came after a jury threw out the case against three Sun journalists and one former Daily Mirror reporter.

Brandon Malinsky, Neil Millard and Tom Wells, as well as their Fleet Street rival Graham Brough, were cleared of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office.

They were accused of funnelling cash to public officials in exchange for leaks from inside some of Britain’s most secure jails.  But the jury found that exposing how taxpayers’ cash was wasted on bingo games for illegal immigrants and lavished on child killer Jon Venables was not a crime.

Within hours, the CPS threw in the towel on nine other cases, including fresh prosecutions and retrials.

The decision followed a review sparked by the Court of Appeal quashing the conviction of the first journalist to be convicted.  Ex-News of the World crime editor Lucy Panton was found guilty of bribing officials only for her conviction to be overturned.

Some of the most senior judges in the country criticised how the archaic law of misconduct in public office – under which prosecutions were brought – had been applied, fatally undermining other cases.

Of the 27 journalists charged, 25 have been cleared, had their cases dropped or seen their convictions quashed or founder at the Court of Appeal.

In addition, 14 journalists were investigated, including many left on bail for many months, but not prosecuted.

By contrast, 26 of the 28 public officials – including police, prison officers and Ministry of Defence staff – charged under the inquiry have been convicted.

Original report here

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