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February 9, 2015

Government press officer who sold stories to The Sun avoids jail after 32-month wait for sentence

By PA Mediapoint

A former Government press officer who admitting leaking details of the 2010 budget to the Sun before the Chancellor could deliver it to MPs has avoided jail.

Jonathan Hall, 53, pleaded guilty in August 2013 to conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office by accepting £17,475 for the tips he gave Sun Whitehall editor Clodagh Hartley while he worked at Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

On Friday he was sentenced at the Old Bailey to eight months in jail suspended for two years and ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work and pay prosecution costs of £535.

Judge Peter Rook QC told him that one reason he avoided jail was that he had, through no fault of his own, waited 32 months to hear his fate, and suffered stress and anxiety as a result.

He said: "Your job was to manage the dissemination of news, not to disclose it for your personal enrichment.

"Between April 2008 and July 2011 you sold information – receiving rewards to the sum of £17,475 – including the unauthorised leaking of details of the 2010 budget before the Chancellor had the chance to speak in Parliament.

"What was quite clear to you, this was an unauthorised disclosure and that this was in advance of the proper time for disclosure and you were well aware the confidentiality was time-sensitive."

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He went on: "The real criminality here lies in the fact that during that period you had two paymasters – HMRC and News International."

The judge told Hall that an aggravating feature in the case was that he had involved his girlfriend Marta Bukarewicz in his crime, putting her through "the most stressful of trials".

He noted that despite that, Ms Bukarewicz was still supporting and standing by her boyfriend, remarking: "You owe her a great deal."

Hartley, 40, of Brockley, south east London, and Bukarewicz, 45, of Kentish Town, north London were cleared of the same charge after a trial at the Old Bailey in November.

Earlier, prosecutor Zoe Johnson QC told the court that Hall, also of Kentish Town, was senior press officer at the law enforcement desk for HMRC.

She said: "His role was to answer questions for journalists and identify opportunities for media coverage and react to negative stories so he was made aware in advance of issues likely to come to light.

"He attended daily morning meetings attended by all HMRC press officers and was part of the press office rota so had to be available at weekends and evenings, therefore had to be kept informed of the entire gamut of HMRC duties.

"He was privy to confidential budgetary decisions, tax affairs and fiscal policies.

"Of the 18 articles in the Sun for which he was paid, 10 were in breach of his duty of confidentiality and amount to unauthorised disclosure."

First contact with Ms Hartley was made in August 2008 and he was first paid £500 in April 2008, which was before he became press officer for HMRC.

He also got £750 for the 2010 budget leak, the court heard.

In mitigation, Richard Wormald said Hall was an "odd fish" at HMRC and he had joined the civil service in an attempt to grow up.

On his dealings with Ms Hartley, he said: "He was seduced by the money. He was seduced by the attention."

Hall smiled and shook his lawyer's hand as he left the courtroom but declined to comment to reporters.

A confiscation hearing was set for April 16 at the Old Bailey.

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