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December 11, 2014updated 12 Dec 2014 5:44pm

First reporter convicted under Operation Elveden payments probe avoids jail term

By Press Gazette

The first journalist convicted of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office has escaped imprisonment after being given a six-month sentence suspended for one year.

The former News of the World reporter, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was convicted last month of paying prison officer Scott Chapman for two stories about preferential treatment in prison for Jon Venables.

Venables was one of two ten-year-olds who killed toddler James Bulger. Venables was sent back to prison in 2010 for child porn offences

In mitigation the court heard that the reporter has not worked in journalism since the closure of the News of the World in 2011. They are the only journalist prosecuted as a result of Operation Elveden who has received no financial help from their employer to fund the cost of their prosecution.

As a result the prosecution has had a devastating effect on their finances, the court heard. 

The court heard that the former reporter has two young children to support and already has to contend with the fact their reputation is in "shreds". They spent 19 months on police bail before being charged.

Daily Star Sunday journalist Tom Savage was acquitted by the jury in the same trial of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office by paying the same prison officer for stories.

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The judge said in this case the distinguishing factor was the fact that the News of the World reporter knew the source was a prison officer when they made the decision to pay them for stories.

In addition to the suspended prison sentence they were imposed with a a three-month tagged curfew and 150 hours of unpaid work.

Chapman, 42, who made £40,000 from selling information to The Sun, News Of The World, Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, Sunday People, Daily Star and Daily Star Sunday, was convicted of misconduct in a public office alongside his ex-partner Lynn Gaffney, 40, who let him to use her bank account to channel payments.

Chapman was today sentenced to three and a half years jail and Gaffney to 30 weeks.

Judge Charles Wide said whilst sentencing the News of the World reporter: "You claim to have been acting conscientiously in the public interest. I don't accept that. I do accept you  were doing your best to satisfy a very demanding boss and to make your way in a ruthlessly competitive industry.

"You knew from the start Chapman was doing it for the money."

He noted that in an email to a colleague the News of the World reporter said that they knew Chapman was giving stories to a number of newspapers and the judge said "your main concern was to make sure the News of the World paid him enough to get the next big one".

But in sentencing the judge took into account the fact that two stories were only a small part of the total Chapman had sold and were mainly already in the public domain. 

He said: "These were back of the book stories. There is no evidence here of corrupting a public official."

He took into account the reporter's good chraracter and the impact a custodial sentence would have on their young children.

He also noted the fact that their offence was much less serious than that of Lynn Gaffney, who made up to £13,000 from what the judge described as "money laundering".

The judge noted that the case has now been hanging over the reporter for a few days short of three years, since their original arrest. 

"Your life has been on hold…The references for you are quite outstanding…from a range of people in diverse walks of life."

He noted that the reporter was "respected and trusted by police" in their role as a senior crime reporter and they were also trusted with confidential information.

There was an audible gasp of relief when the judge revealed that he was going to suspend the prison sentence. The press bench and public gallery was filled with journalists, many of whom had attended to show support for their colleague.

Email pged@pressgazette.co.uk to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

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