A former chief constable has said there needs to be a review of the way the charge of corruption in a public office is used against journalists.
Andy Trotter, who as well as leading British Transport Police was also Association of Chief Police Officers media lead, was speaking after the acquittal of four Sun journalists on Friday.
The four were cleared by a jury over payments made by the paper to Ministry of Defence employees for stories. The four spent three years under suspicion from the time of their arrests in early 2012 to the end of the trial.
Asked to expand on comments made to The Times, Trotter told Press Gazette: “Money has changed hands to public officials which is wrong and should not have happened. But there is a question over whether the journalist should be tried for this offence of misconduct in a public office.
“As a matter of general principle I’m a little unsure about the use of that offence. There needs to be a review of the offence and a more specific definition so people are absolutely clear about what they an and can’t do."
He also said that there have been other cases where it has been used against police officers over matters that should have been covered as disciplinary issues.
At least 64 journalists have been arrested over the last three years on suspicion of voicemail interception, computer hacking and making payments to public officials
Trotter questioned whether in all cases the alleged wrongdoing was a criminal matter or whether it could instead be dealt with via the civil law.
He added: “I don’t think there is anything for the journalism industry to be proud of here, it has been a pretty grubby exercise. But I think when we have all moved on I don’t think any public official now thinks they can get away with passing on confidential information for money without serious consequences.
“And I hope journalists will now have the same concern.”
Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday Conservative MP Michael Ellis raised concerns with Prime Minister David Cameron about the prosecutions of journalists.
He said: “Does my right honourable friend agree that the witch hunt that has seen several journalists from The Sun, for example, put through three years of hell and cases that juries keep throwing out is un-British, in that the Crown Prosecution Service is seeking to neuter the abilities of journalists to obtain information in the public interest? Should there be a rethink of CPS policies for similar prosecutions, because that reflects across the whole of Europe?"
Cameron said: "That issue was not raised with me or at the press conference. Obviously, the CPS is independent in our country, as it should be, but my hon. Friend is right to say that justice delayed is justice denied and these things should always be resolved as speedily as possible."
Andy Trotter is taking part in a panel discussion at City University in London on Monday night entitled 'Journalists, surveillance and the police: How can the secret state learn to live with the fourth estate?' Also on the panel are Sir David Omand, Michelle Stanistreet and Alan Rusbridger. More details here.