LONDON (Reuters) - A senior British counter-terrorism police officer was found guilty on Thursday of misconduct in public office over a call to the News of the World to discuss an investigation into phone-hacking by its reporters.
April Casburn, 53, a detective chief inspector, rang up the tabloid newspaper on September 11, 2010, and disclosed various details of a confidential police probe that had just been launched and was the subject of intense media speculation.
Casburn’s case was the first criminal trial to arise out of a web of police investigations connected to the hacking scandal, which was in its early stages in September 2010 but later escalated into a much wider crisis affecting British media, politics and police. The News of the World was shut down by its owner, Rupert Murdoch, in July 2011.
The prosecution accused Casburn of asking the paper for money and said her call was a “malicious” attempt to undermine the investigation because of her perception that she had been wronged and sidelined by police colleagues.
Casburn denied asking for payment. She said her intention was to raise the alarm over what she viewed as a waste of counter-terrorism resources on hacking when they should have been concentrating on preventing attacks in the run-up to the anniversary of the September11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
She testified that she had been incensed by the attitude of senior officers who regarded the hacking probe as “a bit of a jolly” because it was an opportunity to interview celebrity hacking victims like the actress Sienna Miller.
After hearing three days of evidence and arguments, a jury at London’s Southwark Crown Court returned a verdict of guilty on one count of misconduct in public office, the Press Association reported.
Casburn will be sentenced later.
“WANTS TO SELL INSIDE INFO”
Casburn was head of a counter-terrorism financial investigations unit at the time when she made the telephone call that led to her trial.
The hacking scandal was revving up after a New York Times article on September 1, 2010, alleged widespread wrongdoing at the paper. The police were under intense pressure to investigate the allegations contained in the article.
There is no recording of Casburn’s call to the News of the World newsdesk early on a Saturday morning, but the reporter who took her call wrote a summary of what she said in an email he sent to his editor a quarter of an hour afterwards.
The reporter, Tim Wood, wrote that Casburn wanted “to sell inside info”. Casburn denied this in court, saying Wood must have misheard or misunderstood. Her lawyer suggested that he may have jumped to the conclusion that she wanted money because it was common practice at the paper to pay for stories.
Wood’s email said Casburn had disclosed that police wanted to interview six people connected to the News of the World including Andy Coulson, a former editor of the paper who by then was head of communications for Prime Minister David Cameron.
Casburn argued that this was not damaging to the police investigation because the six people’s names had been all over the papers for more than a week and it was widely expected that police would talk to them.
But the prosecution said it was “disgraceful” for a senior police officer to reveal any inside information about an investigation to the very newspaper that was the subject of the police’s interest.
Regardless of whether she wanted money for the information or not, the prosecution said the phone call was a gross breach of the public trust in the police.
Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Steve Addison