Three month suspended sentence for Sun's Nick Parker after conviction for handling MP's stolen mobile phone - Press Gazette

Three month suspended sentence for Sun's Nick Parker after conviction for handling MP's stolen mobile phone

Senior Sun reporter Nick Parker (pictured, Press Association) has been cleared at the Old Bailey of aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office but convicted of handling Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh's stolen mobile phone.

A cheer erupted around The Sun's London Bridge office when the news broke at 12.45pm today that he had been cleared of the misconduct in a public office charge. But it was followed by news of the other guilty verdict.

Parker was this afternoon sentenced to three months imprisonment, suspended for 12 months.

Judge Paul Worsley said: "You were prepared to behave dishonestly in order to get a story relating to allegations of bribery. You were seeking to get a story for your employers.

"You told the jury that you had missed out on the MPs expenses scandal story. And I have no doubt when the phone came to you you hoped to find material that might form the basis of a similar dramatic story.

"You over-stepped the line between investigate journalism and breaking the law."

A jury has been considering the case againt Parker since Thursday.

Parker, 53, was convicted along with college student Michael Ankers, who tried to sell the contents of the BlackBerry to the tabloid newspaper and was found guilty of theft.

The court heard that Parker agreed a holding contract of £10,000 to see the texts.

But he abandoned the story after failing to find any evidence of "criminality" in relation to a text about bribery, the court heard.

The jury deliberated for nearly 20 hours before reaching unanimous verdicts at the Old Bailey.

The journalist was cleared of the more serious offence of aiding and abetting Surrey Police officer Alan Tierney to commit misconduct in a public office.

Tierney, who has admitted the offence, contacted him with a follow-up tip about footballer John Terry's mother and mother-in-law being cautioned for shoplifting and a story about Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood allegedly assaulting his girlfriend.

During the trial, prosecutor Michael Parroy QC read out Parker's notes about an initial conversation he had with Ankers on "topics of interest" from some of the texts stored on the mobile.

The first was about a text from an MP in the context of the leadership contest between David and Ed Miliband saying: "I will kill myself if Ed wins", the court heard.

Others notes referred to "jokes about William Hague having to share a hotel bedroom", "Ed and Boris" both using politics as a "plaything", and another about "holding out for bribes for hard cash".

The last of the five topics referred to an apparent text stating: "Although the decision is brave and honourable and I guess has been taken after internal consultancy (supporters/voters) but I am very sad, unhappy and upset for the country", the court heard.

Ankers told the court he found the stolen BlackBerry on the Tube at Tooting Bec, south west London, in October 2010 and decided to contact the Sun before handing it in to police.

He met Parker in a Richmond cafe before showing off the phone at Petersham Hotel where he agreed a £10,000 holding contract if the contents were of use to the tabloid.

In his defence, Parker, the Sun's chief foreign correspondent, denied he had done anything wrong.

The father-of-two told jurors that his main aim as a journalist was to "seek out the truth and focus very squarely on the public interest".

Sources should be "protected at all costs", he said, and that was "enshrined" in the Press Complaints Commission.

He justified looking at the contents of the stolen BlackBerry phone because he had been told there was evidence of "criminality" on it.

He told jurors: "Journalists are obliged to work in a grey area sometimes. They are obliged to take risks.

"I was sent to work on that phone. It's run by lawyers, it's run by newsdesk, senior managers. They sent me. I do not accept I acted unlawfully at all."

He said, as it turned out, the text about bribery was "obviously a joke" and there was no story in it for the newspaper but the only way to establish that was to look at the phone.

On the shoplifting story, he said the Surrey Police officer had contacted him to set the record straight and because he could not understand why they had not been charged for taking £1,450-worth of goods.

He added: "I was incredulous as to why they had not been charged with theft offences because I just did not understand it. I had covered lots of stories where, for far less, people were prosecuted and jailed."

Parker, 53, of Twickenham, south-west London, was found not guilty of two counts of aiding and abetting Tierney to commit misconduct in public office in 2009, but guilty on a count of handling stolen goods in 2010.

Ankers, 30, of no fixed address, was found of guilty of the theft of the mobile phone.

Judge Paul Worsley adjourned the case until 2.30pm.

Parker was first arrested on 11 February 2012. He has faced a three-week trial at the Old Bailey.

Parker is the first Sun journalist convicted as result of the various police investigations stemming from the hacking scandal.

Last month Sun Whitehall editor Clodagh Hartley was cleared of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office by making payments to a government press officer.

Also last month a News of the World reporter, who can't be named for legal reasons, was convicted of the same charge after paying a prison officer for stories.

In October a jury failed to reach a verdict in the trial of Sun reporter Vince Soodin who was accused of conspriacy to commit misconduct in a public office by paying a police officer for stories.

Nick Parker profile, by PA's Emily Pennink:

In a distinguished career spanning 34 years, the Sun's Nick Parker covered stories in some of the world's most dangerous war zones.

But having survived the hazards of Afghanistan and other hotspots where reporters had been killed, he came unstuck over a potential story closer to home.

Parker, who is originally from Dudley, joined his local newspaper in 1980 before being recruited by the Sun in 1988 for its Glasgow office.

While there he covered news events including the Piper Alpha oil rig explosion and the Lockerbie bombing.

Having moved to the London offices, Parker was regularly sent abroad to work on stories including the first Gulf War, the Bali bombings, the 9/11 terror attacks, the Beslan school massacre in Russia and the search for Osama bin Laden.

The chief foreign correspondent said he only covered domestic stories when he was not needed to cover major events abroad.

The jury was told how, despite his 2012 arrest, Parker had helped law agencies in the South Africa honeymoon murder case of Shrien Dewani who was yesterday cleared by a court.

He travelled to South Africa to give evidence for the prosecution about what he had discovered during interviews with Dewani and others connected to the case.

The court heard that as a result of his investigation, he had discovered that Dewani had been in a secret bisexual relationship, a fact he said was "very relevant" to the case.

In all, Parker, 53, covered stories in around 40 per cent of the world's countries, the jury was told. But despite his wealth of experience he was always acting on the instructions of the newsdesk editors who "made every editorial decision", he said.

He told jurors that in his 26 years at The Sun he had never knowingly reported anything that he knew to be false and he would always check out the "accuracy and truthfulness" of what he was told, never taking information on face value.

He said he was always driven by the public interest and the need to protect his sources "at all costs".

However, he said he was never given any help or advice on the law relating to public officials and he never thought when he was dealing with them that he was doing anything wrong.

The Press Complaints Commission code was "basically our bible", he said.

Parker, who now lives in Twickenham, south-west London, said he found his 2012 arrest at the home he shared with his wife and two children "very, very distressing".

He has been suspended since.



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Author: Dominic Ponsford

Dominic Ponsford is the editor of Press Gazette


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