A former Director of Public Prosections has acknowledged that the Crown Prosecution Service made an "error" in pursuing some Operation Elveden cases.
Lord Ken Macdonald, who was DPP for the CPS between 2003 and 2008, said the prosecutor had not attached “enough weight… to the public interest, in freedom expression and in the freedom of the press”.
He told the Today programme: "I think it’s simply obvious that there are circumstances in which it can be in the public interest for journalists to pay for information."
The current DPP, Alison Saunders (pictured), has been described by Conservative MP David Davis as "the worst… in modern times".
The Sun report him today as calling for an inquiry into the CPS for the "persecution" of Sun journalists.
On Friday, three more tabloid journalists – The Sun’s Brandon Malinsky and Neil Millard, and Graham Brough, formerly of the Daily Mirror – were found not guilty of paying public officials for stories. The fourth on trial, Sun reporter Tom Wells, was found not guilty on two charges brought against him, and the jury could not decide on a verdict on the third. Later, the CPS dropped its cases against nine out of 12 journalists awaiting trial.
The acquittal came in the same week the CPS was criticised for not prosecuting Lord Janner on sexual offence allegations.
Asked on the Today programme on Saturday whether Operation Elveden was still credible, Macdonald said: “Well, I think we have to give the highest regard to the importance of freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas, and I think it’s simply obvious that there are circumstances in which it can be in the public interest for journalists to pay for information. Not for tittle-tattle or gossip or scandal, but we can all imagine cases where if the price of information coming into the public domain is the payment of a public official by a journalist then that’s an appropriate thing for the journalist to do.
“And it looks as though in the charging decisions that were made in the past in the Elveden cases not enough weight was attached to the public interest, in free expression and in the freedom of the press. And that was an error which I think the DPP has now tried to correct by dumping some of these cases.”
On Saturday, The Sun’s front page branded the CPS the 'Crown Persecution Service', quoting Conservative MP John Whittingdale as saying: “It is extraordinary the amount of time and money that has led to acquittals in so many cases and the abandonment of further prosecutions.
“It raises questions about the integrity of the investigation. What may have started as a legitimate attempt to find wrongdoing widened into a general witch-hunt against The Sun.”
Media lawyer Gavin Millar QC said: “There is now an overwhelming case that this has to be stopped. The journalists have been put through misery. I am beginning to wonder what is going on at the CPS.”
Writing in The Sun, associate editor Trevor Kavanagh said the “crashed” Operation Elveden raised “serious questions” about the futures of Saunders and of Metropolitan Police commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe.
He said: “It was Hogan-Howe who presided over the often thuggish and grossly disproportionate police raids.
“He overruled calls for journalists to be called in for interviews like other citizens suspected of non-violent offences.
“Police ransacked homes, held terrified children in their nighties, ripped up floorboards and confiscated bags of private papers, love letters and computers still not returned. Not one scrap of this ‘evidence’ was ever used in court.
“DPP Alison Saunders also deserves severe criticism. This week she rejected a prosecution against alleged child sex pervert Lord Janner despite apparently strong evidence.
“Yet she stubbornly persisted against all advice to hound innocent journalists.
“It is time for Saunders and Hogan-Howe to admit they have made a hideous blunder, apologise — and call off their dogs.”