Reporter cleared over stolen phone
An ex-Sun reporter has been cleared of plundering a stolen mobile phone for flirty texts and pictures between a PR woman and a well-known television personality.
Ben Ashford, 35, was accused of handling stolen property and accessing data on the woman's iPhone after it was stolen during a night out in Manchester in October 2009.
The Old Bailey heard he was handed the phone by Sameena Rashid, who had contacted the newspaper about a potential story based on its contents.
The prosecution said he handed the phone back to its rightful owner on instructions from the Sun, but not before he spent a night going through intimate texts and photographs which revealed her relationship with two celebrities, referred to in court as A and B.
Two days later, the theft was reported to the police. Ashford was interviewed as a witness and Rashid was later cautioned for theft.
In his defence, Ashford said he did not think at the time he was given it that the phone was stolen. He considered the possibility that the PR woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, and Rashid had been in on a deal to leak her own story.
Ashford was charged after police uncovered a number of emails among the large amount of information handed over by News International as part of the wider hacking inquiry in 2012.
It is the first case brought by police under Operation Tuleta, the investigation into allegations of computer hacking at newspapers.
Ashford, of Coulsdon, south London, was found not guilty of possessing criminal property between October 11 2009 and October 16 2009.
He was also found not guilty of causing a computer - the iPhone - to perform a function with intent to secure unauthorised access to a programme or data, between the same dates.
As he left court Ashford said he did not want to comment on the verdict.