LONDON (Reuters) - A senior British policewoman’s call to the News of the World to discuss an investigation into phone-hacking by its reporters was “extremely stupid” but not a crime, her lawyer said on Wednesday.
April Casburn, 53, a detective chief inspector in the counter-terrorism branch, is on trial accused of calling up the tabloid newspaper on September 11, 2010, offering to sell inside information about the hacking probe.
She accepts that she made a call to the newspaper but denies asking for money or revealing anything that was not already in the public domain. She has pleaded not guilty to one charge of misconduct in public office.
The phone-hacking scandal subsequently escalated to the point that the News of the World was shut down by its owner Rupert Murdoch. Britain’s political establishment and police were tainted by revelations of their cosy relations with the Murdoch press.
But at the time Casburn made the call, the scandal was in its early stages and she says her motivation was outrage over the fact that the phone-hacking investigation had been handed to counter-terrorism police.
She felt they should have been concentrating on preventing attacks in the run-up to the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
“If a bomb had gone off on a tube train when (counter-terrorism police) were interviewing Sienna Miller and Hugh Grant, she’d look a lot less stupid now,” Casburn’s lawyer Patrick Gibbs told the jury at Southwark Crown Court.
He was referring to two actors who were victims of phone-hacking by the News of the World. Casburn testified on Tuesday that she had been incensed by the attitude of some of her colleagues who appeared to regard the hacking probe as an opportunity to meet celebrities like Miller.
“You’re not here to decide whether she gets the sack for what she did. You’re here to decide whether this telephone call makes her a criminal just like the ones she’d spent the previous 18 years trying to catch,” Gibbs said in his closing speech.
He said the News of the World had not published any article based on the call, nor had any money been paid.
He said it now appeared “enormously foolish” for her to have called the very newspaper that was being investigated by police.
Prosecutor Mark Bryant-Heron dismissed Casburn’s defence as a lie. He said she was aggrieved over her perception that her mostly male colleagues did not respect her or keep her in the loop and that her decision to call the News of the World was a malicious attempt to undermine the hacking probe.
He noted that in an email written a quarter of an hour after the call, the News of the World journalist to whom she had spoken wrote that she wanted to “sell inside info”. He also said that whether or not she did ask for money, her action had been disgraceful.
“The action of a senior police officer in contacting the News of the World, the very paper that was the subject of the investigation, to release details of that investigation, that act, with or without money, has no reasonable excuse,” he said.
“The public are entitled to expect the police not to behave in this way.”
He said that if her true purpose had been to raise public alarm over misuse of counter-terrorism resources, it would have been better to call the Guardian newspaper, which was leading coverage of the hacking scandal, or “any paper not owned by Mr Murdoch”.
Bryant-Heron dismissed Casburn’s argument that she was powerless to raise her concerns within the police force because of an intimidating, male-dominated culture.
Casburn testified on Tuesday that she had not been given a desk for her first two years in the job, that her male colleagues played golf and went drinking together and she was not a part of that, and that she never felt she had the ear of anyone important enough for her views to be taken into account.
But Bryant-Heron said none of that was an excuse for calling up the News of the World instead of raising her concerns through the proper channels.
“This is no shrinking violet. This is a detective chief inspector of the Metropolitan police. That is a tough job,” he told the jury.
Reporting by Estelle Shirbon