UK policewoman defends decision to call paper over hacking

LONDON Tue Jan 8, 2013 6:04pm GMT

Detective Chief Inspector April Casburn arrives at Southwark Crown Court in London January 8, 2013. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Detective Chief Inspector April Casburn arrives at Southwark Crown Court in London January 8, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Stefan Wermuth

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LONDON (Reuters) - A senior British policewoman accused of trying to sell inside information to a newspaper being investigated for phone-hacking said on Tuesday she was driven to call the paper by anger that counter-terrorism officers were having to lead the probe.

April Casburn, 53, said she felt it was particularly inappropriate to "dilute our efforts" in the week leading up to the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, a time of heightened alert.

Casburn said she called the News of the World on September 11, 2010, because she felt the police's counter-terrorism command should not have been put in charge of investigating any wrongdoing at the paper.

"I felt sufficiently strongly that we should not be diverting resources that are to do with saving people's lives ... on what was probably a bit of a jolly. It made me really angry," Casburn told Southwark Crown Court, where she is on trial for misconduct in public office, which she denies.

"There was palpable excitement regarding who would get to go and see Sienna Miller," she said, referring to an actress who was one of the suspected victims of phone-hacking.

The scandal was in its early stages when Casburn called the paper. A New York Times article on September 1, 2010, had made allegations of widespread abuses at the News of the World and police were coming under intense public pressure to launch a full investigation.

The scandal eventually escalated to such an extent that the News of the World was closed down by its owner Rupert Murdoch.

The integrity of the police and politicians, including the prime minister, was also called into question, when close ties to Murdoch executives and journalists were disclosed.

But at the time of the events that led to Casburn's trial, the counter-terrorism command had only just launched a confidential probe into the matter, known internally as Operation Varec.

TEARS IN COURT

Casburn, who was head of a financial investigation unit within the command, was not involved in Varec and was not supposed to know details about it.

But she told the jury that she learnt some details during a meeting, in which she became incensed by the attitude of senior colleagues.

The prosecution cast doubt over whether any such meeting took place, saying there was no evidence of it in Casburn's diary or in the diaries of the officers she said had attended.

The prosecution say Casburn wanted money from the News of the World in exchange for information and the call was to "whet their appetite" for what else she could tell them, an accusation she denied.

The News of the World did not publish any story based on Casburn's call and no payment was made. The journalist who took the call sent an email minutes later in which he said she wanted to "sell" information but she told the court he had misunderstood or misheard.

Asked why, of all newspapers, she had called the one that was the subject of the investigation, Casburn said the News of the World reached a wide range of readers and she felt it was a good vehicle to get her views out.

She denied prosecution accusations that she was in fact trying to help the News of the World in the hope of establishing a "corrupt relationship" with the paper.

She said she had no need for money as she and her husband were financially secure with a good income.

Asked why she did not raise her concerns about the use of counter-terrorism resources within the police rather than going to a newspaper, Casburn said she felt isolated and powerless to influence events within the clubby, male-dominated command.

Casburn broke down in tears in the witness box as she recounted events in her personal life that had become interwoven with the events that led to her trial.

She said she had been under intense stress as she went through an acrimonious divorce while launching adoption proceedings with her new partner.

The trial continues on Wednesday.

(Editing by Alison Williams)

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