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  1. Media Law
April 27, 2015updated 28 Apr 2015 2:59pm

Case against cleared Sun reporter Stephen Moyes said he ‘demonised’ Suffolk Strangler by writing stories about him

By Dominic Ponsford

The criminal trial of Sun reporter Stephen Moyes was set to hear that he had “demonised” the Suffolk Strangler by writing public interest stories about him, he told Press Gazette.

Moyes was today formally cleared some two years after he was initially questioned by police on suspicion of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office by paying a prison officer for stories.

He was due to face trial, but was one of nine journalists to be told a week ago that the cases against them were being stopped in the light of the Court of Appeal decision to quash the conviction of Lucy Panton.

The stories which Moyes were charged over dated from his time working for the Daily Mirror and the News of the World. But he was working for The Sun at the time he was questioned by police.

Moyes was the first Sun journalist to be questioned by appointment at a police station, rather than being arrested in a dawn raid involving up to ten officers searching his home.

He told Press Gazette his reporting concerned security and safety issues at a maximum security prison that otherwise would have been concealed from the public.

And he said that all of his stories were confirmed before publication by the Ministry of Justice.

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Moyes also noted that he personally has never paid for a story in his career – but rather the payments were made by publishers, via official channels.

He told Press Gazette his trial was due to hear a statement from a prison's head of counter terrorism saying that all his articles were accurate and in the public interest.

He said: "Incredibly she went on to say that I had personally ‘demonised’ four high-profile criminals by writing public interest stories about them – namely, child killer Jon Venables, terrorist Abu Hamza, Suffolk Strangler Steve Wright and Night Stalker Delroy Grant.

"Her statement was, in part, identical to those she had written for the trials of journalist colleagues. It was shocking to compare and contrast.”

He described the various Operation Elveden prosecutions as: “A carefully orchestrated, politically-minded campaign to silence the free press – the bedrock of our democracy – and reduce us to a country in which there is no one to hold Government and big business to account.”

Some 34 journalists have been arrested and/or charged as a result of the Operation Elveden inquiry into journalist payments. One journalist conviction stands. According to the CPS, 21 public officials have been convicted and a number of trials are yet to take place. Three Sun journalists are also still set to stand trial.

Stephen Moyes' statement in full:

I'm grateful for the support of family and friends throughout this ordeal. And thankful for the advice of my legal team, the QCs Oliver Blunt and David Miller, and solicitor Mark Abbott.

But I can't celebrate until the rest of my colleagues have successfully concluded their cases. I would urge the CPS to look again with a view to throwing them in the dustbin, where the much maligned Operation Elveden belongs.

I am also dismayed that a prison whistleblower is still going to trial.

Without him a number of important security and safety exposés would have been hushed up – by the same negligent prison management who were responsible for them.

His concerns – of sweeping staff cuts when they were at full capacity, threatening the lives of warders, inmates, and the general public – were backed up by reports and statistics from the independent prison inspector and charities such as the Howard League for Penal Reform.

'I never paid anyone for a story throughout by career'

Among the things that those behind Operation Elveden have never grasped is that, as in so many other cases, my stories were all stood up pre-publication by the Ministry of Justice press office. And there was never a complaint or question mark against them.

Also, something the blinkered police and prosecutors missed, is the fact that I have never paid anyone for a story throughout my career.

Rather, every national newspaper I've worked on encourages readers to ring in with 'We Pay For Stories' adverts each day. And they choose to make payments in a fully transparent way – from their bank direct to the source's account – in keeping with the papers' policy of paying public officials for stories that are in the public interest.

Former Daily Mirror editor Richard Wallace made this explicitly clear in his statement to the Leveson Inquiry. This was not a murky world of clandestine meetings near prison gates where brown paper envelopes stuffed with cash were handed over. I'd have run a mile.

The legal experts were surprised I was charged due to the paucity of evidence against me, the huge public interest in the stories I wrote, and because I was told the CPS had to be sure I knew my source was a public official.

Well I didn't know, and yet they charged me anyway, presumably hoping I'd get swept away on a tide of public outrage over the fact that true stories which the establishment wanted hushing up were being published.

Total sympathy for phone-hacking victims

I joined the News of the World in the summer of 2010, almost a year to the day before it was closed. It was the fifth time I had been approached to join a News International title after eight happy and successful years on the Daily Mirror.

When I joined the NoW it had a clean bill of health. It had been given the thumbs up after probes by Assistant Met Police Commissioner John Yates, the Commons' Culture Media & Sport Select Committee, and the Press Complaints Committee industry watchdog. The tabloid's editor and two other senior bosses separately assured me it was the cleanest paper on Fleet Street. I believed them.  At that time, I think it was.

But after a brief hiatus, more details about past criminality emerged. And after The Guardian's factually incorrect page one claim that the NoW had deleted murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler's voicemail messages, it was closed in disgrace.

Editors who had assured me the paper was 'clean' were among those who went to jail after admitting phone-hacking. I have total sympathy for their victims.

On a personal level I knew how Prime Minister David Cameron felt when he expressed his anger at being lied to by Andy Coulson, the former NoW editor who he had invited into Downing Street as his advisor, only for him to be later convicted of phone-hacking.

Beginning to feel like the 'Grim Reaper'

In 2011, when 300 staff lost their jobs, I was the only news reporter parachuted on to The Sun.

Within weeks my new colleague Jamie Pyatt was arrested under Operation Elveden. He was the first of many. At this point I felt like the Grim Reaper. Where I trod chaos ensued.

It was a harrowing time for everyone, with reporters pulled from their beds by teams of police and treated like terrorists.

Before joining the daily paper, I had been assessed and cleared by News International's internal Management & Standards Committee. It made my police action and later charge all the more surprising.

Many colleagues were angered by the rumoured comment from lawyers in New York, that the company was "draining the swamp" by arresting scores of journalists. In reality each one was having their lives ruined for doing their jobs, having not strayed from industry-wide training and our PCC code. It was bewildering. There remain a lot of unanswered questions.

Thankfully, juries in the cases of my colleagues didn't buy into the crooked, skewered and biased opinions of the Met Police and the CPS.

I have friends in these organisations – and feel sorry that they have been tarnished by the appalling decisions taken by those at the helm.

Trial would have heard that Moyes 'demonised' the Suffolk Strangler

Some of the evidence that was to be used against me at trial next month was extraordinary.

A prison head of counter terrorism and corruption prevention confirmed in her statement that all of my articles were accurate and "furthered" public interest.

Incredibly she went on to say that I had personally "demonised" four high profile criminals by writing public interest stories about them – namely, child killer Jon Venables, terrorist Abu Hamza, Suffolk Strangler Steve Wright and Night Stalker Delroy Grant.

Her statement was, in part, identical to those she had written for the trials of journalist colleagues. It was shocking to compare and contrast.

I am genuinely sorry that I won't get the chance to watch the prison governor being cross-examined by my QCs following his statement.

He was the target of an assassination plot by Somali gangsters in 2011. At the request of the police and Prison Service we sat on the story for four months. Yet his account was at odds with evidence in the prosecution's own bundle. There are not many things that have angered me over the last couple of years. But his flagrant words did.

I was also relishing the prospect of seeing how a former prison officer got on in the stand. The police approached him for a victim impact statement following the true story I wrote about his dismissal by the Prison Service. He was axed after an investigation into claims he reduced married women colleagues to therapy and counselling after spreading malicious gossip about fictitious "bed-breaking" sexual relationships he was having with them.

A sacked and disgraced public official being wheeled out to try and convince a jury to have me convicted and jailed for doing my job….it would all have been laugh-out-loud funny were it not so serious.

'My fate was in the hands of these goons'

Reading through desperate statements such as these, you could hear the sound of the scraping of the bottom of the Elveden barrel.

Critical evidence that could have saved me from being charged was missed or ignored. Stories from the same prison source before the indictment period, that proved I had not 'dangled a carrot' of payment from the first time he contacted the Daily Mirror, did not appear in disclosure.

The police were no better. The interviewing officer in my case didn't seem to have heard of Jon Venables' victim Jamie Bulger – pronouncing him as 'Bulgar' or 'Bugler' during my interview.

It could have been an unedifying tactic to get me to talk, against legal advice. But the fact that that this experienced police officer had never heard of some of the words in various headlines, among them 'thwarted' and 'scalded', and was unable to pronounce them, made me think he was simply incompetent.

All harmless fun I suppose until you consider that my fate was in the hands of these goons.

'We were collateral damage in a war on popular papers'

My legal team were always confident my case wouldn't reach court. They were all the more certain of this when it emerged that the prosecution team lined up for my trial had advised their own CPS bosses that they didn't personally think it was worth proceeding against me.

This just underlined what many of us caught up in this process already knew – we were collateral damage in a war on popular papers.

A carefully orchestrated, politically-minded campaign to silence the free press – the bedrock of our democracy – and reduce us to a country in which there is no one to hold Government and big business to account.

Listening to the sneering, condescending tones of prosecutors such as Peter Wright QC and Michael Porroy QC in early Elveden trials, they couldn't hide their contempt for tabloid newspapers. And with it, a total disregard for the tens of millions of Britons who consume them across all platforms each week.

Perhaps these lofty legal minds should have paid less attention to the newspaper-hating Guardian, and the hysterical rantings of hand-wringing, frenzied self-styled media commentators on social media.

Any tabloid journalist could have been caught in the 'Elveden Octopus'

I'm angry that I was a pawn in all of this. I worked very hard from a cub reporter on local papers to become, as I was told by a senior industry colleague during this process, statistically the most successful news reporter on Fleet Street, with six individual press awards to my name, alongside other award nominations and team gongs.

I am proud of many of the stories and investigations I have had published at the Daily Mirror, News of the World and The Sun. Career highlights include working alongside the police on numerous occasions to expose proper criminality.

Drug dealers, thugs attempting to pervert the course of justice, sinister bogus passport gangs, car crash scam fraudsters, and a couple trying to sell their baby are among double-figure numbers of criminals put behind bars because of my stories. That's not including police cautions for hypocritical celebrity Class A drug users such as Kate Moss and Craig Charles.

I'm so grateful to many industry figures, among them Press Gazette editor Dominic Ponsford, who penned statements and were willing to come to court to testify for me at trial.

Most people in the business grasped it could have been any of us snared by the "flailing Elveden Octopus", as my QC Oliver Blunt so aptly put it. I defy anyone who has worked in popular newspapers over the last couple of decades to hand on heart be certain they have not been involved in a story for which a public official was paid – after all there were no checks to determine who was ultimately receiving money paid to a source.

It has been a surreal process for me since I was first interviewed under caution by Elveden cops. Reading the statements of so many friends and industry colleagues has proved incredibly humbling, perhaps like listening to eulogies at your own funeral.

Those of us caught up in the process have become a band of brothers – not forgetting our sisters, Clodagh Hartley and Lucy Panton – and established a 24/7 support network. Most of us feel stronger for the experience.

I'm looking forward to getting back to work, in whatever role that may be. And returning to one of the most important aspects of any journalist's job – exposing and holding to account those in power who abuse their position in the way that those responsible for this investigation have done.

Shame on them all.

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