Crime & the Law

Only Sun journalist found guilty of paying a police officer for stories given suspended sentence at the Old Bailey

"Old Bailey entrance" by Tbmurray - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“Old Bailey entrance” by Tbmurray – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

An Old Bailey judge has decided to suspend the prison sentence imposed on the only Sun newspaper reporter so far to be found guilty of breaking the law by paying a public official for stories.

The prosecution alleged that 41 year old crime reporter Anthony France from Watford, cultivated a ‘corrupt relationship’ with Pc Timothy Edwards over four years.

While working at Heathrow Airport in SO15 counter-terrorism command, Edwards sold 38 stories and tip-offs in return for more than £22,000.

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Mr France was found guilty of an ancient common law offence dating back to the 13th century of aiding and abetting the policeman to commit misconduct in a public office.

The 18 month prison sentence has been suspended for two years and been ordered to do 200 hours of community service.

The trial is part of the controversial Met Police Operation Elveden that has been criticized for ‘persecuting’ tabloid journalists who were rewarding sources for ‘public interest’ stories.

Earlier this week the editor of the online journalism professional magazine Press Gazette, Dominic Ponsford, urged Judge Timothy Pontius not to jail him.

Guardian and Standard commentator and Professor of Journalism at City University Roy Greenslade wrote that he disagreed with the jury’s verdict.

Judge Pontius accepted that Mr France was working in a system of paying public officials for information at News International:

It follows first, that payment of a fee, and determination of the appropriate sum, were matters for editorial discretion and not for the defendant and, secondly, there was no handing over of a grubby envelope, produced from the defendant’s pocket in a dark corner of a pub.

The defendant, holding a fairly junior post at the Sun, was therefore following an accepted procedure that doubtless had existed for some time, and doing so in relation to a source of information  –  TIMOTHY EDWARDS  –  he had not recruited himself but one he had inherited from a colleague and to whom payments had previously been made for information.

The judge also acknowledged that Anthony France had an entirely unblemished character and was ‘essentially a decent man of solid integrity and social responsibility.’

He said:

I have reached that view not only having had the opportunity to observe and listen to him at length, in the witness box, an incalculable advantage in itself, but upon the written evidence provided during the trial by his two character witnesses  –  both, themselves, men of impressive and unquestionable integrity and strength of character  –  to whom the defendant has repeatedly shown a high degree of kindness, understanding and valuable practical assistance, as he plainly has to those witnesses who have provided written character references today.

In particular, the defendant’s work for charities such as the Damilola Taylor Trust and the Spirit of London Awards is itself impressive testament to a man they all hold in the highest regard.

Detective Chief Superintendent Gordon Briggs, who leads Operation Elveden, said after the conviction:

France and Edwards were in a long-term corrupt relationship. Over a three year period, France paid Edwards in excess of £20,000 for stories. Edwards was not a whistleblower, he obtained confidential information in the course of his duties and leaked it for financial gain.

Corrupt relationships of this kind undermine confidence in the police service and harm the public interest. Officers found guilty of acting in this way merit criminal sanction. Journalists who encourage or aid and abet their corrupt actions and do so without reasonable excuse or justification are equally culpable.


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