The acquittal of two Sun journalists today means that out of 34 journalists arrested and/or charged under the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Elveden inquiry, two have been convicted.
The rest have all now been cleared of offences linked to payments made to public officials.
Some 29 were charged. One, former Sunday Mirror and News of the World reporter Dan Evans, was convicted after admitting the offence of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office (as well as phone-hacking and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice).
Seven journalists had the charges dropped after a U-turn from the Crown Prosecution Service. Two were convicted only to be cleared on appeal.
Only one conviction stands of a journalist who was brought to trial, that of The Sun’s Anthony France. His legal team are currently pursuing an appeal.
Operation Eleveden has cost the police at least £13m, not including legal fees. The total estimated cost to the taxpayer has been widely reported to be £30m.
The police will point to the fact that at least 30 public officials have been convicted of selling information to journalists.
But it is difficult not to conclude that the prosecutions of journalists has been an utter waste of time and caused a huge amount of needless suffering.
Before Operation Elveden the 13th century common law offence of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office had never successfully been applied to a journalist.
Nearly all juries have found it impossible to convict journalists of breaching a law which was never intended to be used against them.
All the arrested journalists paid a heavy price for being caught up in a police inquiry inspired by political pressure to get even with the tabloids in the wake of the hacking scandal and by the Met Police’s misguided attempts to atone for its original failure to properly investigate hacking.
They have also paid for Sun publisher News International’s woeful decision to share emails revealing evidence of payments to public officials with the police.
News International (now called News UK) could yet face a corporate prosecution.
The careers of many journalists have been destroyed as a result of Operation Elveden. At least two tried to commit suicide. Some were senior figures at the peak of their careers when they were arrested (Graham Dudman, Fergus Shanahan, John Edwards and John Kay, for example) and have never returned to their jobs after being suspended when they were charged.
Journalists have been treated like gangsters. Dawn raids on their homes which have been searched as terrified families have looked on. Hours in the cells for questioning. Years spent reporting for police bail. And then weeks behind bullet-proof glass flanked by security officers in the dock of the Old Bailey.
Former Sun reporter Jamie Pyatt and former news editor Chris Pharo were today cleared of any crime after four years in legal limbo following their arrests. What a price to pay for being not guilty.
Today payments to public officials are explicitly outlawed by the Bribery Act 2010, which came into force in 2011.
So why have the police spent so long pursuing journalists over historic offences using an outdated piece of legislation?
In all the Elveden trials I have yet to see evidence that anyone was harmed by the stories journalists paid for (apart from the convicted public officials). In many cases the stories were clearly in the public interest.
The Met Police appears to have lost all sense of proportion when it focused the resources of ten murder inquiries on pursuing journalists for writing stories.
Elveden may now finally be over for the journalists but its effects will live on far into the future in terms of the stories that won’t now get told.
So perhaps as far as the police and the Government are concerned they will feel it is mission accomplished.
Here are the 34 journalists arrested and/or charged under Operation Elveden (those with asterisks were never arrested). ‘Cleared’ denotes the case was dropped before trial, or in some cases before a retrial.
|Andy Coulson||NoW||08/07/2011||Yes||Cleared (guilty hacking)|
|Rebekah Brooks||NoW, Sun||17/07/2011||Yes||Not guilty verdict|
|Dan Evans||NoW, Mirror||19/08/2011||Yes||Guilty plea|
|Jamie Pyatt||The Sun||04/11/2011||Yes||Not guilty verdict|
|Lucy Panton||NoW||15/12/2011||Yes||Guilty verdict overturned on appeal|
|Chris Pharo||The Sun||28/01/2012||Yes||Not guilty verdict|
|Graham Dudman||The Sun||28/01/2012||Yes||Cleared|
|Mike Sullivan||The Sun||28/01/2012||No||Cleared|
|Fergus Shanahan||The Sun||28/01/2012||Yes||Not guilty verdict|
|John Sturgis||The Sun||11/02/2012||No||Cleared|
|Geoff Webster||The Sun||11/02/2012||Yes||Not guilty verdict|
|John Kay||The Sun||11/02/2012||Yes||Not guilty verdict|
|Nick Parker||The Sun||11/02/2012||Yes||Not guilty verdict (guilty handling)|
|Virginia Wheeler||The Sun||01/03/2012||Yes||Charges dropped health grounds|
|Duncan Larcombe||The Sun||19/04/2012||Yes||Not guilty verdict|
|Clodargh Hartley||The Sun||25/05/2012||Yes||Not guilty verdict|
|Neil Millard||The Sun||14/06/2012||Yes||Not guilty verdict|
|Greig Box-Turnbull||Daily Mirror||04/07/2012||Yes||Cleared|
|Tom Savage||Daily Star Sunday||11/07/2012||Yes||Not guilty verdict|
|Justin Penrose||Sunday Mirror||11/07/2012||No||Cleared|
|Vince Soodin||The Sun||08/08/2012||Yes||Cleared|
|John Coles||The Sun||19/09/2012||No||Cleared|
|Tom Wells||The Sun||19/09/2012||Yes||Not guilty verdict|
|Anthony France||The Sun||17/01/2013||Yes||
|John Troup*||The Sun||21/05/2013||Yes||Not guilty verdict|
|John Edwards||The Sun||21/06/2013||Yes||Not guilty verdict|
|Ben O’Driscoll*||The Sun||12/09/2013||Yes||Cleared|
|Graham Brough*||Daily Mirror||26/02/2014||Yes||Not guilty verdict|
|Brandon Malinsky*||The Sun||26/02/2014||Yes||Not guilty verdict|
|Stephen Moyes*||NoW, Sun||16/04/2014||Yes||Cleared|
|Ryan Sabey*||NoW||15/08/2014||Yes||Guilty verdict overturned on appeal|