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November 26, 2014updated 27 Nov 2014 3:25pm

Tears of relief for Sun Whitehall editor Clodagh Hartley as she is cleared of conspiracy to corrupt public official

By Court News UK

Sun Whitehall editor Clodagh Hartley and the girlfriend of a HM Customs press officer have been cleared of plotting to reveal government secrets in exchange for cash.

Ex-Whitehall editor Clodagh Hartley, 40, said she was "doing her job" when she requested Customs press officer Jonathan Hall be paid for stories about government waste and maladministration.

Hall, 43, chief of the HMRC's law enforcement desk, has admitted misconduct in public office after receiving £17,475 over more than three years from The Sun.

He convinced his girlfriend Marta Bukarewicz, 45, to let him use her account for payments from News International.

The "greedy" civil servant leaked sensitive information on Alistair Darling's final Budget in 2010 and information aimed at embarrassing tax officials.

The court heard that Hartley was later instructed by Sun management to disguise her source's identity after it became clear he was a public servant.

But detectives from Operation Elveden failed to demonstrate that the payments amounted to a criminal conspiracy rather than legitimate public interest investigations.

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According to the prosecution it "was easy money for lazy journalism".

But Hartley maintained Hall was a "whistleblower" who was appalled at the waste and complacency in HMRC.

She said she had "no idea" her conduct could be questioned by police and hit out at News International's decision to hand over swathes of data to the Met.

"I thought that sources would be protected", Hartley said.

A jury of six women and six men took under two days to acquit the pair of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office following a three-week trial.

It can now be revealed for the first that time that Hall had earlier admitted the offence.

Hartley, a mother of two young children, wept and gasped "Thank you" as the jury unanimously acquitted the pair.

The reporter, who had stints as The Sun's Los Angeles correspondent as well as consumer affairs editor, has said she does not plan to return to journalism.

Alexandra Healy QC, defending Hartley, said: "What it amounts to is she is on trial for that criminal offence for doing her job.

"She made no secret of what she was doing.

"Miss Hartley admits she requested that her employers paid money to Jonathan Hall and makes no secret of what she is doing.

"Miss Hartley is openly requesting that News International pay Jonathan Hall.

"All she could do was to request that News International pay him and we have seen that there was an authorisation process.

"We have to look at Miss Hartley's actions on basis of the factual circumstances at the time and how political journalism has operated for years."

She said Hartley's stories had not involved a "scintilla" of information potentially affecting national security or invading the privacy of individuals.

The barrister maintained prosecutors could only back up their argument that Hartley published confidential information in respect of "three articles and two stories…that were never published".

Hartley said she was "out of the loop" when Sun journalists began to be arrested, as she was organising her wedding in Ireland.

"It was a devastating piece of news", she said.

"I began to understand that they [police] were looking at sources who had been paid by papers.

"I think that there had been some earlier arrests regarding police, police sources and I learned then that that was not allowed.

"I did not know at the time that it was illegal to pay police officers, soldiers."

Last month Sun reporter Vince Soodin stood trial accused of corrupting a police officer. The jury could not reach a verdict and he now faces a retrial in the New Year.

Earlier this month former Daily Star Sunday journalist Tom Savage was acquitted of the same offence. A former News of the World journalist, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was found guilty of paying a prison officer for stories in the same trial.



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