Met signals the end of Elveden witch hunt with a glib infographic and a refusal to answer questions - Press Gazette

Met signals the end of Elveden witch hunt with a glib infographic and a refusal to answer questions

The Met Police appears to think that it can justify its five-year witch hunt against journalists and their sources with a glib infographic.

It sees Operation Elveden as a success because it resulted in 34 convictions, mainly of public officials paid money by journalists for stories.

Fair enough, up to a point.

But what about the 32 journalists, who in many cases, needlessly had their lives destroyed?

Out of 34 journalists arrested and or charged under Elveden only two convictions stand. One, Dan Evans, admitted the offence. The other, Anthony France of The Sun, was spared jail by the judge and is currently appealing his conviction.

The other 32 were in some cases arrested in dawn raids, in front of terrified families, spent years on police bail and then weeks behind a bullet-proof dock in the Old Bailey for nothing. Many careers have been ruined. Two tried to kill themselves. 

News Corp has to answer for the fact that it set Elveden in train by giving confidential emails to police. At the time of the closure of News of the World in 2011 it felt it had to co-operate totally and be completely transparent after covering up the scale of phone-hacking at that paper. It is also clearly saw this as a way to avoid a corporate prosecution.

But the Met also needs to explain the proportionality of devoting the sort of resources that might be used on half a dozen murder hunts to prosecute journalists writing in stories.

In nearly all cases those stories were in the public interest, or at the very least they did no demonstrable harm. That is why the prosecutions of journalists all collapsed.

The police officers and public officials taking money fall into a slightly different category. Although it must be said that in many cases the money may have been secondary to their role as genuine whistleblowers.

I would love to know how Operation Elveden became so big and why the Met found it impossible to put the investigation into reverse once it became apparent the prosecutions of journalists weren't going to stick. Sadly the Met has said it will be giving no interviews. So much for transparency and accountability.

Finally, back to that infographic. Apparently there were more than 400 victims of crime affected by Operation Elveden.

I covered the Elveden trials pretty closely, and I am not aware of any "victims" who were shown in court to have been done actual harm by the stories which appeared. I am guessing those victims will include people like James Bulger killer Jon Venables, who was the subject of stories about him getting special treatment in jail. And I suspect people like that do no fall into most peoples' definition of a victim.

Assistant commissioner Patricia Gallan said today: “In order to secure evidence and build cases detectives reviewed over 200,000 emails, 28,000 documents and in excess of 12,000 exhibits. They also established that confidential information was leaked over 400 times, and over 400 victims were informed that personal data relating to them had been sold.

“Some of these people were already victims of crime. The mother of a British Soldier who was killed in Iraq told officers that she was ‘totally sick to her stomach and devastated’ that someone could make money out of the death of her daughter. Another, the mother of a teenage girl who died in tragic circumstances, was devastated to learn that a police officer had sold information about the death of her child." 

My heart goes out to these two poor parents, but details of the fact that their loved ones had died in tragic circumstances would have come out anyway. These are matters of legitimate public interest.

Of course it is right that the Met investigates allegations of public officials corruptly taking money to disclose private information. And while I have sympathy for individual journalists who were arrested, I think it is clear that The Sun was guilty at a corporate level of creating a culture where public officials and police officers were routinely paid for stories without proper consideration being given to the public interest and the appropriateness of doing so.

But the Met also needs to face up to the mistakes that it has made over Elveden, rather than seeking to close the book and its eyes with a flurry of positive spin.



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Author: Dominic Ponsford

Dominic Ponsford is the editor of Press Gazette