Detective Chief Inspector April Casburn has been convicted of misconduct in a public office by a jury at Southwark Crown Court after she admitted telephoning the “News of the World” on 11 September 2010, shortly after the phone hacking inquiry was re-opening. She is the first person to have been prosecuted under Operation Elveden, the investigation into improper police behaviour.
DCI Casburn admitted that she had telephoned the News of the World and told a reporter called Tim Wood that Andy Coulson was one of four people under investigation. In a memo about the conversation the reporter said the officer wanted to “sell us inside info” about the hacking investigation. DCI Casburn had been told that officers from counter-terrorism command would be seconded to a new phone-hacking inquiry launched as a result of an article in the New York Times, Operation Varek.
Prosecuting Counsel had told the court that DCI Casburn “provided information relating to the allocation of resources for Operation Varek,” She was also said to have identified a number of suspects and gave the names of two of the people under investigation. The prosecutor said
“She spoke of the difficulty of proving the crimes alleged, and she sought to undermine a high-profile and highly-sensitive investigation at the point of its launch…she sought for reasons of her own to undermine an investigation by giving information to the very newspaper that was concerned in the investigation.”
DCI Casburn claimed that she had made the call because she felt the public should be told that counter-terrorism officers were being seconded to the hacking inquiry instead of “saving lives” but this was rejected by the jury at Southwark Crown Court which returned a unanimous verdict of guilty on a single court of “misconduct in public office” – a crime at common law which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
The judge, Mr Justice Fulford, deferred sentence to a later date but made it clear that “an immediate custodial sentence” was a real possibility.
Chief Superintendent Gordon Briggs said
“It is a great disappointment that a detective chief inspector in counter-terrorism command should have abused her position in this way. There is no place for corrupt officers or staff in the Metropolitan Police Service. We hope this prosecution demonstrates that. Leaking or in this case trying to sell confidential information to journalists for personal gain will not be tolerated. There may be occasions where putting certain information into the public domain – so-called whistle-blowing – can be justified; this was not one of them. In this case, DCI Casburn proactively approached the News of the World, the very newspaper being investigated, to make money. She betrayed the service, and let down her colleagues, the hardworking, honest police officers, who make up the vast majority of the Met. Fortunately, this type of behaviour is rare but we hope today’s verdict shows the public can have confidence that the MPS holds itself to account.”
This case is the first of several criminal trials arising out of Operations Weeting, Elvenden and Tuleta which will take place in 2013.