LONDON (Reuters) – A senior British counter-terrorism police officer was jailed on Friday after becoming the first person to be convicted following a massive police investigation into alleged phone-hacking centred on Rupert Murdoch’s British newspapers.
Detective Chief Inspector April Casburn, 53, was jailed for 15 months for misconduct in a public office after she was found guilty last month of offering to sell details about the phone-hacking inquiry to Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid.
“It was … a corrupt attempt to make money out of sensitive and potentially very damaging information,” said Justice Adrian Fulford.
Casburn called the News of the World on September 11, 2010, when police were at the early stages of examining claims journalists from the paper had illegally accessed the voicemails of mobile phones in a bid to find stories.
Prosecutors said she had phoned asking for money in an attempt to undermine the investigation because of her perception that she had been wronged and sidelined by police colleagues.
She denied asking for payment, and 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 September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
Casburn, head of a counter-terrorism financial investigations unit at the time, testified that she had been incensed by the attitude of senior officers, who regarded the hacking probe as “a bit of a jolly” and a chance to interview celebrity hacking victims like the actress Sienna Miller.
However the judge said her actions could not be described as that of a whistle-blower, adding if she was not in the process of adopting a child, he would have jailed her for three years.
“If the News of the World had accepted her offer, it’s clear, in my view, that Ms Casburn would have taken the money and, as a result, she posed a significant threat to the integrity of this important police investigation,” Fulford said.
Detectives are now not only investigating these allegations, but also whether journalists paid cash to public officials, including police officers, for information.
Casburn is the first person to be convicted in a scandal which escalated into a much wider crisis embroiling the top echelons of the British establishment, media, and police, and led to Murdoch closing down the News of the World in July 2011.
Rebekah Brooks, the former boss of News Corp’s British newspaper business and a close confidante of Murdoch, and Prime Minister David Cameron’s former media chief Andy Coulson, are among those who have also been charged with criminal offences relating to their inquiries.
The hacking scandal prompted Cameron to launch a wide-ranging public inquiry into the press, which exposed cosy relations between politicians and journalists and delivered an excoriating verdict on newspaper practices last November.
It also called for the often unruly press to be overseen by a regulator enshrined in law, but Cameron rejected this to the delight of many in his Conservative party but to the dismay of the Lib Dems, the junior coalition partner.
However, he ordered editors to come up with an effective independent system of self-regulation urgently but as yet the industry is still working on proposals.
(Editing by Jon Boyle)