Met detective 'tried to sell phone-hacking info to News of the World' - Press Gazette

Met detective 'tried to sell phone-hacking info to News of the World'

A senior detective committed a "gross breach" of the public's trust by trying to sell the News of the World (NotW) information about a phone-hacking investigation, jurors were told today.

Detective Chief Inspector April Casburn, 53, is accused of offering the now-defunct tabloid information about Operation Varec, the investigation into whether Scotland Yard's inquiry into phone-hacking should be reopened.

She denies one charge of misconduct in public office on September 11, 2010.

At that time she was working in counter terrorism, managing the National Terrorist Financial Investigation Unit, Southwark Crown Court was told today.

One one of her team had been asked to carry out financial investigations as part of the Scotland Yard probe into phone-hacking, the court heard.

It is alleged that Casburn rang the news desk of the tabloid at 7.51 on the morning of Saturday, September 11, 2010, to offer information in exchange for payment.

During the conversation Casburn gave the names of two of the people under investigation, Mark Bryant-Heron, prosecuting, told the jury.

"The prosecution says she sought to undermine a highly sensitive and high profile investigation at the point of its launch," he said.

"The prosecution say – and it's a matter for you 12, that the act of telephoning the News of the World to offer to sell information and the provision of some information during that call was misconduct – it was misconduct in public office.

"It was a gross breach of the trust that the public places in a police officer not to disclose information on a current investigation in an unauthorised way, or to offer to do so in the future for payment."

The newspaper did not publish anything and no payment changed hands, the court heard.

Casburn, from Hatfield Peverel, Essex, admits having made the phone call but denies asking for money, and says she had reasonable excuse.

She says she was concerned that resources that were supposed to be used to combat terrorism were being allocated to the phone-hacking investigation, and that much of the information was already public knowledge.

The court heard that the call was taken by a journalist called Tim Wood, who was then a news editor at the NotW.

He said the caller refused to give her name, but introduced herself as a senior police officer.

Wood told the jury: "The one thing that stands out in my mind is the fact that she kept going on about Lord Prescott – her saying that he was pressing for them to put charges on the News of the World, and she was saying that she felt it was wrong that he was interfering in the scandal, so to speak, and she resented that."

He added: "She was almost justifying her call by saying that it was this interference by Prescott that had upset her."

Wood sent an e-mail to news editor Ian Edmondson and crime journalist Lucy Panton after the call to say that a police officer wanted "to sell inside information" on the phone-hacking inquiry.

Casburn told him that six people were under investigation including former NotW editor Andy Coulson and reporter Sean Hoare, Mr Wood said.

She also mentioned that "counter-terrorism assets" were being used in the probe, which was "highly unusual".

Detective Superintendent Christos Kalamatianos, who led the 60-strong National Terrorist Financial Investigation Unit, told the court that his relationship with Casburn was "cordial", but that on one or two occasions she had accused him of failing to support her and the unit.

Kalamatianos said: "Generally I believed it (their relationship) to be cordial, but at times less so."

Casburn broke down in tears in the dock as her former colleague gave evidence, and was comforted by a member of her legal team.

Casburn's former boss said: "I believe I was managing her sensitively, I don't know that I was managing her well."

Casburn had no desk for some time, although more junior officers did have desks, jurors were told.

Kalamatianos said his relationship with Casburn was not hostile and he supported her application for promotion.

Detective Chief Superintendent Dean Haydon, who led Operation Varec in September 2010, said the investigation was set up following allegations linked to phone hacking made in an article in the New York Times.

He said he was initially following seven lines of inquiry: the editor of the New York Times and the journalist who wrote the article, and six former journalists: Coulson, Hoare, Sharon Marshall, Brendan Montague, Ross Hall and Paul McMullan.

An investigator from Casburn's unit was asked to check financial records for the six to make sure officers had the correct address for each of them.

The unit was also asked to look at whether Hoare received payment for the New York Times article, although that line of inquiry was discontinued.

Haydon said the work for the investigator would have been "minimal" and he would have been "very surprised" if Casburn had raised concerns about resources.

Asked in cross-examination whether the counter-terrorism unit was investigating "active plots" at the time, he said: "There are always active investigations being led by the command into terrorism-related activity."

He also told jurors that one financial investigator on Operation Varec admitted he had been at a dinner party with a journalist who worked for The Sun, and had discussed phone hacking.

The investigator was then removed from the team.



Press Gazette's must-read weekly newsletter featuring interviews, data, insight and investigations.