Reporter blasts ‘failing’ Elveden

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Published: Friday 24th April 2015 by The News Editor

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A Sun reporter launched a scathing attack on a “flailing and failing” Operation Elveden after becoming the latest to be cleared of paying a public official for tips.

Last week, Tom Wells was found not guilty by a jury of two charges relating to his dealings with prison officers who allegedly sold information about James Bulger killer Jon Venables while he was behind bars in 2010 and 2011.

And today, the 34-year-old was told the Crown would not seek a retrial for a third charge of plotting to commit misconduct in a public office with an immigration detention centre official after the jury failed to reach a verdict.

However, the prosecution will still pursue his co-accused Mark Blake, 43, from Slough, for allegedly pocketing nearly £8,000 for tips while working at Colnbrook secure immigration removal centre between 2008 and 2010.

After a brief hearing at the Old Bailey, Mr Wells, of south east London, said he was “delighted” to be cleared but “deeply disappointed” for Blake.

He branded the Crown Prosecution Service “misguided” and the judgment of senior Elveden officers “woefully poor” in bringing cases against 27 journalists at all.

He said: “During the past three years, my life and that of many other decent journalists has been torn apart by police officers who made no secret of their thinly-veiled contempt for the inconvenience of a free press, and misguided CPS lawyers.

“Together the police and CPS felt they were best placed to judge the public’s right to know about the very institutions they pay for through their taxes.

“Thankfully, that frighteningly repressive idea of police and prosecutors dictating what is and isn’t in the public interest has been shattered by juries armed with common sense and the recent judgment of the Court of Appeal.”

In his closing speech, Mr Wells’ lawyer Adrian Keeling, QC, quoted newspaper publisher, Lord Northcliffe as saying: “News is what someone, somewhere, wants to suppress. All the rest is advertising.”

Mr Wells echoed those words, adding: “Operation Elveden has tried to suppress the public’s right to know by criminalising journalists. It has failed miserably.”

Last week, Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders dropped the outstanding trials of nine out of 12 journalists after News of the World reporter Lucy Panton – the first journalist to be found guilty of plotting misconduct – won an appeal against her conviction.

The decision means that to date, not a single journalist has been successfully put on trial following the £20 million Elveden probe.

Mr Wells described the decision to press ahead with the remaining three accused journalists as “a mark of desperation” and a “vain attempt to justify an investigation which is both flailing and failing”.

And he told how his life was “turned upside down” three years ago when he was arrested in a dawn raid on his home, leaving his wife in tears.

Defending his stories, Mr Wells said: “It was obvious back in 2012 that stories exposing how taxpayers were funding guitar lessons and rowing machines in prison for Jon Venables, one of Britain’s most notorious convicted child killers, were in the public interest.

“It is a rich irony that it took putting a journalist on trial to reveal for the first time how it cost the public purse £279,000 in overtime payments over 18 months to monitor Venables around the clock in prison.

“During my trial, it was demonstrated time and time again that my stories had shone a bright light into areas of public life which those in authority would have far preferred to have kept shrouded in darkness.”

Yesterday, Ms Panton, 40, from Surrey, was also celebrating as she was formally acquitted of a second charge she had faced before her appeal led to the partial collapse of Elveden.

Published: Friday 24th April 2015 by The News Editor

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