UK

Operation Elveden: Journalists cleared in payment trial

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Media captionEx-Daily Mirror reporter Graham Brough: "I have protested my innocence since the beginning of the 18-month ordeal"

Three journalists have been found not guilty of illegally paying public officials by a jury at the Old Bailey.

Ex-Daily Mirror reporter Graham Brough and the Sun's Neil Millard and Brandon Malinsky were cleared of conspiring to commit misconduct in public office.

Sun reporter Tom Wells was also cleared of two counts.

The jury was discharged after failing to agree verdicts on a third charge against Mr Wells and one count against ex-immigration officer Mark Blake.

Jurors in the trial - part of Operation Elveden - had been deliberating for nearly 42 hours, after retiring on 8 April.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has been given seven days to decide whether to seek a retrial on the two remaining counts.

'Inappropriate payments'

BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said - following the latest trial - nine more journalists also arrested under Operation Elveden had been told they will face no charges.

In addition to the charge still outstanding against Mr Wells, three other journalists had been told their trial or retrial will go ahead, our correspondent said.

So far, 29 journalists have been charged under Operation Elveden - the Met Police investigation into allegations of inappropriate payments to police and public officials. Charges against 10 of them have been dropped.

Thirteen journalists have been cleared following trials. One has been convicted after pleading guilty. Another, who was convicted, has been given leave to appeal.

Image caption The Sun's Neil Millard said his heart had been "pounding" while waiting for the verdicts

Mr Millard, 33, from Croydon, Mr Malinsky, 50, from north London, Mr Brough, 54, from south-west London, and Mr Wells, 34, from south-east London, had all denied charges of paying public officials for stories.

Mr Brough had been accused of paying £1,150 to an HMP Pentonville prison officer in return for information about singer Boy George and reality TV star Jade Goody's widower, Jack Tweed.

Prison officer

Sun reporter Mr Millard was accused over his dealings with a prison officer, who the prosecution said sold him information about James Bulger killer Jon Venables.

The same prison officer later approached the Sun with stories about singer George Michael, the trial heard.

Night news editor Mr Malinsky had been accused of exchanging emails with Mr Millard about those tips, and denied authorising cash payments of £650.

Speaking outside court, Mr Millard said his heart had been "pounding and pounding" while standing in the dock as the verdicts were read out.

"I did not expect, when I went to do shifts at the Sun, that I would end up at the Old Bailey on the three counts on an indictable offence," he said.

Mr Malinsky said he had endured "nearly two years of torture" and criticised the police and CPS for bringing the case to court.

"It's an ordeal that should never have happened," he said.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The trial is part of the Metropolitan Police's Operation Elveden

Mr Brough said the process had been "harrowing" but the outcome was "life-affirming".

"I hope these acquittals will remove the fear currently freezing investigative journalism, which is the lifeblood of any democracy," he added.

The four journalists are the latest reporters to have been tried on charges brought under Operation Elveden.

Last month, four Sun journalists were cleared of wrongdoing over paying public officials for stories.

Ex-chief reporter John Kay, 71, and ex-royal editor Duncan Larcombe, 39, said their contact with two military sources was in the public interest.

Former deputy editors Fergus Shanahan, 60, and Geoff Webster, 55, were cleared of charges they had signed off payments.

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