Monday, October 31, 2016
British government's pogrom against journalists finally unwound
'The Met Police and Crown Prosecution Service effectively made up a law on the hoof.
A news reporter who was convicted after a controversial investigation into the payment of public officials has been cleared of all wrongdoing today.
Sun crime reporter Anthony France, 42, from Watford, was accused of having a four-year 'corrupt relationship' with a police officer but saw his conviction quashed by three judges at the Court of Appeal in London on Thursday.
He was initially found guilty at a trial at the Old Bailey last year and given an 18-month suspended sentence.
Mr France was investigated under the high-profile, multimillion-pound Operation Elveden, which was launched in 2011 to investigate payments by journalists to public officials.
The Metropolitan Police operation, which cost £14.7 million, led to 90 arrests and 34 convictions, including police officers and 21 public officials.
But, out of 29 cases against journalists brought by the Crown Prosecution Service, the only jury conviction to remain standing was that in Mr France's case.
A number of reporters were cleared by juries. Others had charges against them dropped, or they launched successful appeals following conviction.
After the ruling, Mr France said: 'I am delighted that this serious miscarriage of justice has ended today, allowing me to rebuild my life after 1,379 days of sheer hell.'
A News UK spokeswoman added after the ruling: 'Today, Anthony France's conviction has been overturned on appeal and we are delighted that these proceedings are now over for him.
'In the course of the last five years, 19 journalists from The Sun were prosecuted as a result of Operation Elveden and not one has resulted in any conviction being upheld.'
The ruling led to criticism of both the police and CPS from within the journalism and legal industries. Lawyer David Allen Green, who has a column for the Financial Times, wrote on Twitter that the CPS 'cobbled together' a piece of 'legal daftness' to go after journalists and that 'serious questions should be asked' over the decision to prosecute.
He said: 'When evidence of reporters paying public officials came to light, there was a legal problem for the police/cps. 'The problem was to identify what offences had allegedly been committed. What would be the charges? A basic point, you could say. 'The alleged offences took place before the Bribery Act was in place. So that Act couldn't be used.
'The public officials were therefore prosecuted for the ancient but vague offence of "misconduct in public office". Many pleaded guilty. 'But that left the reporters. They were not public officials and so could not be prosecuted for that (primary) offence.
'But the CPS decided to prosecute the reporters anyway: and used a strange legal means for doing so. The CPS constructed an elaborate (secondary) offence of aiding/abetting/conspiring with he public official to commit misconduct.
'The courts and juries could not make much sense of the offence - what was the requisite criminal intention? And so on. So in case after case in this "Operation Elveden", at great public expense, all the reporters (but one) were acquitted.'
He added: 'Some may say it is unfair to criticse the CPS over any acquittal. But this failure by CPS was wide-ranging and systemic. 'With France's acquittal, serious questions can and should now be asked of CPS over its prosecutions of reporters under Elveden.'
Press Gazette Editor Dominic Ponsford also wrote a column taking aim at the police and CPS over the 'shameful episode in the history of the UK criminal justice system'. He wrote: 'The Met Police and Crown Prosecution Service effectively made up a law on the hoof.
'They used the obscure offence of misconduct in public office against journalists who paid state employees for stories.'
Mr Ponsford added: 'What sort of a country puts journalists who wrote true stories about matters of public interest behind bullet proof glass at its top criminal court?'
Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said: 'The appeal court's decision shows why there needs to be far wider protection for journalists reporting in the public interest.
'In most of the cases in which journalists were charged, ordinary members of the public who made up juries clearly decided that journalists were working in the public interest.
'The police and the Crown Prosecution Service need to think more carefully before they charge journalists for informing the public. 'Careers and lives were destroyed by the over-long and hugely expensive police investigation.'
In May last year Mr France was given a jail sentence of 18 months, suspended for two years, after being convicted of aiding and abetting PC Timothy Edwards, who worked at Heathrow Airport in SO15 counter-terrorism command, to commit misconduct in public office between March 2008 and July 2011.
Mr France, described by the sentencing judge at his Old Bailey trial as a journalist of 'hitherto unblemished character' who was 'essentially a decent man of solid integrity', had his conviction overturned by Lady Justice Hallett, Mr Justice King and Mr Justice Dove.
Lady Justice Hallett said Mr France was 'one of a number of journalists and public officials whose conduct was investigated by police during Operation Elveden'.
She said: 'He was employed as a junior crime reporter at The Sun newspaper. The Sun openly advertised the fact it would pay money for stories.' Between March 31 2008 and July 1 2011, Edwards 'sold them 38 pieces of information'.
She added: 'The applicant wrote the articles that followed and submitted the necessary forms to his employers for Edwards to be paid. 'The forms had to be approved first by the news editor and then by an editor or deputy editor. In total, The Sun paid Edwards over £20,000.'
Edwards pleaded guilty to misconduct in a public office and was jailed for two years in 2014.
The jury at Mr France's trial heard that Edwards passed on details ranging from airline pilots being breath-tested to a drunken model flying into a rage after 'catching her boyfriend romping with a woman next to him'.
The appeal centred on directions given to the jury at the trial by Judge Timothy Pontius.
Lady Justice Hallett said: 'Taking any one of those criticisms in isolation, we may not have been persuaded the summing-up rendered the conviction unsafe. 'However, we must consider their cumulative effect and read the summing-up as a whole.
'Having done so, we are driven to the conclusion that the jury were not provided with legally adequate directions tailored to the circumstances of the case and that the conviction is unsafe.'
Mr France said afterwards: 'Having spent more than three years and nine months fighting to clear my name, this is not a time for celebration. 'Nobody has 'won' and the public are less informed.'
Original report here
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Posted by bussorah at 8:45 AM