Prison officer who worked at jail of Jon Venables paid £40k by seven tabloid newspapers, court told - Press Gazette

Prison officer who worked at jail of Jon Venables paid £40k by seven tabloid newspapers, court told

A prison officer who worked at the jail where child killer Jon Venables served time after having his parole revoked made more than £40,000 by selling information to tabloid newspapers, a court has heard. (Picture, Reuters)

Scott Chapman shared a third of his earnings from The Sun, News Of The World, Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, Sunday People, Daily Star and Daily Star Sunday with his ex-partner Lynn Gaffney, prosecutors allege.

The pair both deny misconduct in a public office, while Daily Star Sunday reporter Tom Savage and a News Of The World journalist, who cannot be named for legal reasons, deny conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office.

Opening the prosecution's case at the Old Bailey, Jonathan Rees QC said: "At the core of this case are allegations that Scott Chapman abused his position as a prison officer by providing information about Jon Venables to newspapers, which they then used to write newspaper articles.

"His motive was not to expose some perceived failings in the prison system, but plain, naked greed."

Rees told jurors that Venables, who was jailed for life for murdering toddler James Bulger in Liverpool in February 1993, had been given a new identity after being released on licence.

He went on to have his parole revoked in 2010 and was jailed for two years after admitting downloading and distributing indecent images of children, serving time at the prison that Chapman, 42, worked at.

Rees told jurors that there is a "code of conduct that governs prison officers duties that prohibits them from making unauthorised disclosures to the press", which he said all staff were made very aware of.

"That being said, the prosecution alleges that Scott Chapman entered into three separate agreements with journalists, each of which amounted to a criminal conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office," Rees added.

He told the court that the first article containing information from Chapman appeared in The Sun on 25 March 2010, with the story detailing how Venables had been given his own "private den" at the prison complete with 36in screen TV and board games.

Chapman's name and other details were later found in the notebook of another journalist next to the date 23 March, with Rees telling jurors this was the earliest known contact between the defendant and a reporter.

That night he also sent the journalist a multimedia message containing a picture of his prison ID card. Chapman later contacted the journalist asking him to delete the message and requested he be known by the pseudonym "Adam", the court heard. Rees said that was a clear indication that he knew he was breaking the law.

He also asked for his phone number to be deleted, providing an alternative for a pay-as-you-go phone instead, which the barrister said was also carried out in order to cover his tracks.

He said notes made by the journalist in his pad referred to Chapman wanting to be paid in a way to "avoid a paper trail" and requesting more than the £750 which was the norm paid out for a page lead.

Rees said Chapman received a total of 11 cheques from News International – the publisher of The Sun and News Of The World – amounting to just over £8,000.

But he added that some of the stories the defendant got paid for – such as one in September 2010 about boxer David Haye which carried the headline "Fury at 'gang rape' jibe by champ Haye" – he was not actually the source for, even though they were attributed to him.

Rees told jurors this was so he could be paid the larger amounts that he wanted, which he said was normal practice by the papers to keep their sources onside.

He said that Chapman went on to be paid just over £4,000 by the Sunday People, just over £7,500 by the Sunday Mirror and £2,000 for articles published in the Daily Mirror.

Referring to Gaffney, 40, he said that she and Chapman had been in a relationship for 13 years but when this ended in around 2003 they had remained friends.

"In essence it is alleged that she assisted Mr Chapman by helping him to conceal payments," Rees said.

Over the course of just over two years, she paid in more than £40,000 on his behalf, the court heard.

Rees said that as a prison officer, Chapman earned about £29,000 a year by the time he left the prison in June 2011, having begun working there in January 2003.

He added that prosecutors had to prove that journalists knew Chapman was a public official for them to be considered to have entered into a criminal conspiracy.

Jurors heard that the first five articles with information provided by Chapman were published in the Sun between 25 March and 22 June 2010.

But Rees said that "by June 27 it was clear that Chapman was doing business with other journalists".

He said that the defendant provided information to the Sunday Mirror that month resulting in a story claiming Venables had been given a 42in screen TV to watch the World Cup.

He told jurors that phone records show that Chapman first made contact with the Star papers on 23 July 2010, ultimately leading to 19 articles published in the Star and 11 in its Sunday sister title.

Savage, 37, wrote 17 of them and had a hand in a further two, he added.

The court heard the stories led to £17,500 being paid into Gaffney's account.

Rees said among the articles was one with the headline "Venables pigs out after his 'good result'" published in July 2010 followed by "Bulger killer's cushy crimbo" that December.

Other stories, including one about pop star George Michael being jailed for driving under the influence of cannabis and one about MP's expenses cheat David Chaytor were also attributed to him, again as a cover in order to give him more money, Rees said.

Jurors heard that 17 days after the first communications between Chapman and Savage, the reporter received a message from a colleague that his "contact at Jon Venables' jail had called with a new tale about Venables".

Rees said this showed that Chapman was "not shy about disclosing his position".

"We say that Savage must have known about it prior to this," he added.

The barrister also said that messages between them also suggested Chapman had told Savage Venables' assumed name, which he described as a "serious and gross breach of trust".

Rees added: "The fact that Chapman continued to supply information about Venables after he had left (the prison) may give you some indication as to what his true motivation was."

The court heard the News Of The World published just two articles with information supplied by Chapman, for which he was paid a total of £1,250.

He also sent a picture message of his work ID to the journalist at the now-defunct Sunday tabloid along with an image of one of his pay slips – "his way of saying that information I give you you can rely on because I work at the jail," Rees said.

Rees read out shorthand notes detailing Chapman's claims about Venables from one of the Sun journalist's notepads.

He said Venables had his own cell away from the other inmates and had a prison officer with him 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Chapman said this treatment was usually only reserved for prisoners on suicide watch.

"He is basically treated like royalty," the notes said.

It also described how the convicted killer was paid £10 a week to decorate his cell as he liked and "joked and cheered" as he watched football.

Venables and his classmate Robert Thompson abducted James from the Bootle Strand shopping centre when they were just 10 years old in a case which shocked the nation.

Giving evidence, Adrian Scott, head of security at the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), told the court that the disclosure of information to the press about prisoners created "security and order issues within our prisons".

He said the trust between prisoner officers and inmates could also be damaged as well as putting the prisoners themselves in danger.

The trial was adjourned to tomorrow.



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