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Sun journalists slam prosecutors after cash-for-stories acquittals

Published 15/10/2015

Sun district reporter Jamie Pyatt has been cleared in a 'cash for stories' trial
Sun district reporter Jamie Pyatt has been cleared in a 'cash for stories' trial

Police and prosecutors faced a wave of anger as the last two tabloid journalists on trial under the multi-million pound Operation Elveden probe walked free from court.

There were cheers at the Old Bailey as Sun news editor Chris Pharo, 46, and district reporter Jamie Pyatt, 52, were found not guilty of aiding and abetting a Surrey police officer to commit misconduct in a public office.

Today's verdicts bring to a close a string of trials in which juries consistently opted to clear journalists of wrongdoing over their dealings with public official tipsters.

Out of 29 cases, only two journalists have been convicted - Sun reporter Anthony France who was found guilty by a jury and NotW reporter Dan Evans who pleaded guilty.

Following the verdict, Mr Pharo's lawyer Nigel Rumfitt QC told the court there had been a "monumental error of judgment" in pursuing a retrial after a jury in Kingston failed to reach verdicts earlier this year.

Outside court, Mr Pharo and Mr Pyatt questioned why £30 million of taxpayers' money had been spent on prosecuting reporters 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?"

Mr Pyatt added: "The head has finally been chopped off the Elveden dragon. It's gone. It should never have been there in the first place. It's disgraceful."

On France's conviction, he said: "I wish the Court of Appeal judges see sense that Anthony cannot be responsible for the payment policy of a global media giant. He is an innocent man and deserves to have his good name back."

He criticised the decision to tie up 80 Metropolitan Police officers who he said should have been on the streets.

And he called for Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders to "consider her position" after deciding to go ahead with his retrial.

The move to prosecute journalists has been an "unmitigated disaster", according to Michael Potts, of Byrne and partners, which has been involved in the successful acquittals.

John Butterfield QC, of No 5 chambers, added: "It is extraordinary and troubling in a supposedly free society to have journalists on trial for articles written in good faith during the course of their job.

"We need journalists to be brave, we need them to be pushing at the edges."

However, the Crown Prosecution Service defended the decision to pursue the two journalists, saying it was "right that a jury, rather than the CPS, decides whether a defendant is guilty or not".

Journalists' confidential sources came to light in the midst of the phone hacking scandal of 2011 when News International handed over millions of emails to police.

The NI paper trail showed police officer Simon Quinn, referred to in court as 2044, had received some £10,000 for tips on high-profile criminal investigations, including the murder of schoolgirl Milly Dowler, "trophy rapist" Tony Imiela and quadruple killer Daniel Gonzalez.

But Mr Pharo, from London and Berkshire, and Mr Pyatt, of Windsor, denied encouraging the officer to breach his professional duty.

Mr Pyatt insisted that the information he received was all in the "public interest" and there was "nothing in there so confidential and secret the public don't have a right to read it".

The reporter said he was "given" the police officer as a contact by the Sun news desk and everything he did was "sanctioned" by the newspaper.

Mr Pharo told jurors his only involvement was valuing some of Mr Pyatt's stories and passing the reporter's requests for cash payments to his Surrey police source up the editorial chain for authorisation.

He complained that his former boss Rebekah Brooks was "back in her job" as chief executive while he was answering questions about the affair in court.

The jury was not told that Quinn, of Horsham, West Sussex, had pleaded guilty to misconduct in a public office between 2002 and 2011 and was jailed for 18 months earlier this year.

Mr Pharo and Mr Pyatt became the last journalists to stand trial for paying public officials after a review by Mrs Saunders in April.

She dropped nine out of 12 outstanding cases after former NotW crime reporter Lucy Panton successfully appealed against her conviction.

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