Charged Sun journalist: 'Alarming' police crackdown has made reporters 'fearful' of contact with public officials - Press Gazette

Charged Sun journalist: 'Alarming' police crackdown has made reporters 'fearful' of contact with public officials

A Sun journalist facing trial for ‘conspiracy to cause misconduct in public office’ has highlighted the plight of the many UK journalists caught up in criminal investigations prompted by the hacking scandal.

The Sun staffer has already pleaded not-guilty at a preliminary hearing. He insists the stories involved were firmly in the public interest.

Press Gazette is not naming him to avoid any suggestion of prejudicing his trial under the Contempt of Court Act.

He made his plea in a message to the World Association of Newspapers press freedom mission which visited the UK last month.

He said: “I am one of 17 journalists from The Sun, The Daily Mirror, The Daily Mail and Daily Star and the defunct News of the World charged and facing trial at the UK’s top criminal court The Old Bailey – usually reserved for those facing murder and terrorism trials. “

The man was first arrested in the summer of 2012

"I was subjected to dawn raid by police officers from The Metropolitan Police’s Operation Elveden investigating payments to public officials from journalists.

“Shortly after 6am, my doorbell rang and I answered the door to eight police officers who promptly arrested me. Officers then went straight to my bedroom to wake my girlfriend, not allowing me to tell her what was happening. Within minutes the police were bagging up my computers and rifling thorough everything in my home.

“I was taken away from my girlfriend to a police station and put in a cell while police continued to search my home. I was kept in the cell for five hours before my solicitor arrived. I was then questioned for around four hours about my sources for those 2010 articles before being released on bail.

“The police questioned me two more times – one occasion I was grilled for three hours before covering the US Presidential elections for The Sun. I was kept on bail for more than a year as the Crown Prosecution Service delayed making a decision on my case causing further anguish for my family and myself.

“Finally… I was charged with ‘Conspiracy to cause misconduct in public office’, which led to my suspension from work and I have been preparing for trial this May ever since.”

Since April 2011 at least 63 UK journalists have been arrested as a result of police investigations prompted by the hacking scandal.

The Sun journalist said: “Reporters are now fearful about the contact they have with public officials who could be potential whistle-blowers about the public services in the UK.

“The manner in which the arrests have been carried out has been shocking. Dawn raids by anything between six and 12 police officers. My colleagues, many of whom have young families, have seen officers rifling through their children’s belongings. One colleague was forced to pick up his sick child from a sofa as police believed evidence was hidden under the youngster.

“Hopes of swift justice so we could defend ourselves have also been dashed. The first Sun reporter to be arrested was held in October 2011. He is still yet to face trial.

“It will be three years before he does. So far no reporter has actually gone on trial, with many of us arrested in 2012.

“The effect of the arrests has been devastating on reporters’ lives. Two sadly tried to commit suicide but thankfully failed in their attempts. While many talented journalists have seen their careers wrecked because they have been put on hold for so long.

“The police have changed tack and appear to have abandoned the heavy-handed 6am raids, but are worryingly secretly contacting reporters and questioning them under caution about their sources – without the public knowing. We understand around 30 reporters have been questioned in this way. If the journalists do not cooperate, they are threatened with arrest. Journalists are now being charged as result of being questioned under caution.

“Meanwhile public officials are being arrested for merely being in contact with journalists – even if they have not been paid for information. And police officers and prison officers have been sent to jail after they were exposed as newspapers sources.

“What is happening to the journalists in the UK, a country proud of its free press and which should be setting the standards for journalists around the world, is certainly alarming. Many of us now look forward to fighting back against the allegations against which I believe threaten journalism in this country and our ability to hold those in power to account.”



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Author: Dominic Ponsford

Dominic Ponsford is the editor of Press Gazette