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Scotland Yard ends probe into payments by journalists

Published 26/02/2016

Operation Elveden was sparked by phone hacking claims and the Leveson Inquiry into press practices
Operation Elveden was sparked by phone hacking claims and the Leveson Inquiry into press practices

The police investigation into inappropriate payments by journalists to public officials has closed, Scotland Yard has said.

Operation Elveden started in June 2011 after allegations of phone hacking emerged during parliamentary committees and the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics and practices.

It has seen the convictions of 34 people - nine police officers and 21 public officials.

On Wednesday, a serving prison officer who had been arrested in September 2015 for misconduct in a public office was told that he would face no further action, marking the close of the operation.

Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Patricia Gallan said those who had been convicted breached the trust of the public by leaking confidential information for "nothing other than financial gain".

She said: "Their actions caused irreparable damage to public confidence and it is right that they faced prosecution.

"These were not whistleblowers, but people working in some of the most trusted positions in the police, prisons and health care, who were only seeking to profit."

News International - a group which included The Sun newspaper - voluntarily supplied documents that revealed payments to police officers and public officials by some journalists which launched the investigation, police said.

Ms Gallan added: "Elveden has been one of the most difficult and complex investigations the Met has dealt with.

"Having received from News International what appeared to be evidence that crimes had been committed by police officers, an investigation was inevitable.

"It was right that we followed the evidence where it took us without fear or favour.

"As the police, our responsibility is to investigate crime and present evidence to the CPS for them to consider appropriate charges, and this is what we did."

She said that the decision to arrest journalists for conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office was "not one taken lightly" and insisted the operation was not an attack on journalists or a free media.

Former Sun news editor, Chris Pharo, said the decision was "the end to the most expensive waste of time in the history of British justice".

Last year Mr Pharo and Sun reporter Jamie Pyatt were found not guilty of aiding and abetting a police officer to commit misconduct.

Press Gazette editor, Dominic Ponsford labelled the operation as "incredibly expensive" and "out of all of proportion".

"With Elveden you had the police and the CPS making up the law on the hoof," he said.

"They were using an ancient law that had never been used against journalists before, and they should have realised from the beginning that this was a non-starter."

Out of 29 cases against journalists, only one, Sun crime reporter Anthony France, was successfully convicted - and this is still subject to an appeal.

Gavin Millar QC, a specialist in press regulation, said that while Operation Elveden was right to pursue public officials for misconduct, the prosecution of journalists "crossed a fault line".

"You can question the ethics of whether a journalist or news organisation were justified in paying for information, or whether it was in the public interest," he said.

"But what makes this different is that the Met took journalists into the criminal justice system.

"These cases could have been taken up in civil complaints, but I think this has set a bad precedent for democracy.

"If you look at the countries with the worst press freedoms in the world, Russia, China, these are the nations where criminal proceedings are taken out against journalists.

Mr Millar said that in many cases taken out against journalists, it quickly became apparent to juries that those on trial had been "doing their job and acting in the public interest".

"Given that the Met, the courts and the CPS are under great pressure in terms of budgets, I think that in terms of priorities, it was an inappropriate use of resources," he added.

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