Yesterday saw two important developments on the criminal prosecutions of former News of the World employees. First, it was disclosed that on Wednesday 5 November 2014, a former News of the World journalist (who cannot be named for legal reasons) had been found guilty of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.
The charges arose of payments made to prison officer Scott Chapman for stories about James Bulger’s killer Jon Venables. Mr Chapman, who made up to £40,000 selling information to journalists, was also convicted along with his former partner Lynn Gaffney. Another journalist, 37-year-old Tom Savage, who worked for the Daily Star Sunday, was found not guilty of the same offence.
The stories about Jon Venables concerned a period in 2010 when was back to prison after his conviction on child pornography charges. During the Old Bailey Trial, the jury was told that Mr Chapman had sold stories about Mr Venables to various newspapers. Some of the payments were channelled through Ms Gaffney’s bank account.
Mr Chapman and the reporter were bailed to be sentenced at a later date. The Judge told Mr Chapman that he should expect his jail term to be counted in years, rather than months. He warned the journalist to be “under no illusions”. There were reports of this conviction in the Guardian, the Independent and on the BBC News website.
The News of the World journalist is the first to be found guilty of paying corrupt officials after a full trial. It is the second conviction for such an offence, following the earlier guilty plea by Dan Evans. Hacked Off commented that this conviction had huge implications for News Group’s US parent company.
Secondly, former News of the World News Editor Ian Edmondson was sentenced to 8 months’ imprisonment by Mr Justice Saunders after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to intercept voicemail messages. Mr Edmondson was one of the original eight defendants at the Phone Hacking trial where he pleaded not guilty. He was later released from that trial after illness but in October 2014 changed his plea to guilty in advance of a new trial.
At the hearing on Friday, the Judge said that Mr Edmondson was in a very senior position and had pleaded guilty at a very late stage. He said
“The list of victims of hacking with whom Edmondson was involved included celebrities, politicians and one person who was famous because of his links with the royal family. Taken together they amount to a substantial invasion of privacy which has caused distress to many people, the majority of whom cannot be accused of courting publicity.”
[Update] Mr Justice Saunders’ full sentencing remarks can be found on Peter Jukes’ Fothom blog. It contains the following interesting passage
“Part of the basis of plea put forward by Edmondson is that ‘the fact that phones could be hacked was common knowledge and industry wide and had been so since the late 1990s’…. [I sentence] on the basis that that is correct despite the fact that it is inconsistent with some evidence given by distinguished journalists in the main trial. The fact that I sentence Mr.Edmondson on that basis should not and cannot effect any conclusion that any jury may reach in any other trial. Mr. Edmondson is not the first senior journalist who has pleaded guilty who has now disclosed how prevalent phone hacking was throughout the industry. In Mr. Edmondson’s case it would have been more powerful mitigation if he had felt able earlier to say publicly what he is saying now”.
Mr Edmondson was first named as a person responsible for phone hacking in a civil claim brought by Sienna Miller against the News of World in September 2010.
There are two Operation Elveden” trials which are still proceeding: the “Sun Six” trial in Kingston and the HMRC Leak Trial at the Old Bailey.