Print Friendly and PDF
only search openDemocracy.net

The Sun trials - the verdict

This is the final piece in our daily coverage of the trial of Sun journalists charged with aiding and abetting misconduct in public office by paying a police officer for information. Here is the verdict.

image: Blogtrepreneur http://www.blogtrepreneur.com/media-justice/

Two senior tabloid journalists were today acquitted of corrupting a detective who sold the Sun inside information on live police inquiries.

Jamie Pyatt, the Sun's Thames Valley reporter, and Chris Pharo, Assistant Editor (News), were found not guilty of aiding and abetting misconduct in public office after a four week trial at the Old Bailey.

The court heard that Mr Pyatt had paid Surrey constable Simon Quinn about £10,000 between 2000 and 2011 for information about investigations into celebrities, the murder of Milly Dowler, M25 rapes and other serious crimes.

Prosecutors had opted to re-try Mr Pyatt and Mr Pharo after a jury at Kingston Crown Court had been unable to reach verdicts on charges of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office against them in January.

Shortly before midday, the jury forewoman in a packed Court 13 of the Old Bailey announced a "Not Guilty" verdict to the single charge against each defendant, to the relief of watching family members, friends and colleagues.

After they walked from the dock, Mr Pyatt, 52, from Windsor, called on the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, "to consider her position."

Mr Pharo, 46, the Sun's head of news – who told the court he had not known Mr Pyatt was paying a police officer – said he had had a "four year nightmare" and thanked his wife Jen.

He asked how spending more than £13 million of taxpayers' money prosecuting journalists "for doing their job was remotely in the public interest".

The Crown Prosecution Service said: "It is right that a jury, rather than the CPS, decides whether a defendant is guilty or not."

The jury was not told that Quinn, 43, from Horsham, West Sussex, had pleaded guilty to misconduct in a public office between 2000 and 2011. Quinn was jailed for 18 months in April.

Jurors were also not told that Mr Pyatt had paid another public official, Robert Neave, an orderly at Broadmoor hospital, for passing on stories about the Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe and other psychiatric patients. Neave, known at the Sun as "Tipster Bob", pleaded guilty to misconduct in a public office in November 2013 and will be sentenced at the Old Bailey next week. 

The trial comes towards the end of Operation Elveden, Scotland Yard's controversial inquiry into payments by newspapers to public officials.

Most of the officials charged have been convicted – and most of the journalists who paid them have been acquitted.

In all there have been 31 convictions and 31 acquittals or discontinued cases.

Crown demanded retrial

Both highly experienced journalists, Mr Pyatt and Mr Pharo have been waiting to find out their fates since they were arrested by detectives in November 2011 and January 2012 respectively.

They were arrested on the basis of internal emails and expense forms handed to police by the Management and Standards Committee of their employers, News International.

They were charged in June and July 2013.

In January 2015 a jury at Kingston Crown Court was deadlocked on their cases relating to payments to Quinn and Neave, and on some charges against former Sun managing editor Graham Dudman and deputy news editor Ben O'Driscoll for other alleged misconduct.

John Edwards, the Sun's picture editor, and John Troup, former East Anglia reporter, were cleared.

After juries acquitted 11 other newspaper journalists over payments to officials, the Crown Prosecution Service reviewed Operation Elveden and dropped charges against Mr Dudman, Mr O'Driscoll and seven other journalists.

Among those were News of the World journalists Andy Coulson and Clive Goodman, jailed for phone hacking, who had been charged over the payment of cash to police guarding the Royal Family in 2003 and 2005 – the allegation which prompted the launch of Operation Elveden in June 2011.

However the CPS pressed ahead with three cases which involved sustained payments to police officers – against Mr Pyatt and Mr Pharo, whose indictment period spanned 2002 and 2011, and against Anthony France, a crime reporter at the Sun.

In May, an Old Bailey jury found France found guilty of aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office for paying Jeffrey Edwards, a counter-terrorism policeman at Heathrow Airport, £22,000 for information for 38 stories between 2008 and 2011. He was given an 18 month suspended sentence.

What the jury heard

The re-trial of Messrs Pyatt and Pharo began at Court 13 of the Old Bailey on Tuesday 22 September 2015.

For the Crown, Julian Christopher QC, argued that the journalists had fostered a "corrupt relationship" with PC Quinn – known in court as Officer 2044 – which had damaged the trust placed in him by victims of crime, witnesses, his colleagues and members of the public.

Among the information Quinn handed to the Sun were three witness statements in a rape investigation and a police mugshot of a man suspected of stabbing Abigail Witchalls.

Mr Christopher maintained that Mr Pyatt had known what he was doing was wrong and that Mr Pharo had known he was paying a police officer, even if he didn't know his exact identity.

Mr Pyatt and Mr Pharo mounted different defences.

Mr Pyatt, Sun news editor under Kelvin MacKenzie, accepted that he had paid Quinn about £10,000 on 11 occasions between 2000 and 2011.

However he said all the stories which had subsequently been published in the Sun had been accurate, permissible under the Press Complaints Commission code of practice and in the public interest.

Richard Kovalevsky QC, his barrister, told the jury the difference between what the public was interested in and what was in the public interest – a distinction drawn by the prosecution – was "infinitesimally small."

In his defence, Mr Pharo testified that he thought reporters who told him in emails that they wanted to pay police officers were exaggerating their sources to make a good impression with higher management.

He stressed that his job had been to value Mr Pyatt's cash requests and pass them up the chain to the editor or deputy editor for approval, rather than to police the newsroom. 

Suggesting blame for payments to police might lie higher up at the Sun, Nigel Rumfitt, Mr Pharo's QC told the jury that while editor Rebekah Brooks had signed "hundreds" of cash payment forms only three had been produced to the trial.

The jury considered its verdicts for three days.

Of the four journalists convicted of offences under Operation Elveden, two have been cleared on appeal.

Twenty-nine public officials have been convicted, including 11 police officers and police workers.

OPERATION ELVEDEN IN NUMBERS

Money spent: £13m (2015)

Convictions:

2 journalists (two other convicted journalists had their convictions quashed on appeal)

27* public officials (including 11 police officers/police staff)

2 others (partners of public officials etc)

TOTAL: 31 convictions

*A further two public officials accepted cautions

Acquittals:

17 journalists (found not guilty on at least one charge)

1 public official

2 others (partner of public official)

11 other cases not proceeded with

TOTAL: 31 acquittals/cases not proceeded with

Source of statistics: Metropolitan Police and Crown Prosecution Service

 

See openDemocracyUK's full series on the Sun trials here.

About the author

Martin Hickman is a writer and publisher in London. He has worked for the Press Association, Reuters and the Independent. In 2012 with Tom Watson he wrote Dial M for Murdoch: News Corporation and the Corruption of Britain. His book publisher, Canbury Press, specialises in contemporary non-fiction.

Subjects

We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the
oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.