Sun reporter Clodagh Hartley cleared over Budget leak

Clodagh Hartley Image copyright AFP

A former Sun journalist has been cleared of illegally paying a press officer for information including details of the March 2010 Budget.

Ex-Whitehall editor Clodagh Hartley was accused of paying Jonathan Hall, from Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, some £17,000 for tip-offs over three years.

Ms Hartley, 40, thanked the Old Bailey jury after being cleared of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.

Hall's girlfriend Marta Bukarewicz, 45, was cleared of the same offence.

He accepts he supplied Miss Hartley with stories for which he was paid and he is due to be sentenced for misconduct in February.

'Highly pressurised'

The Old Bailey had been told he gave the journalist information that went into a double-page spread about Alistair Darling's budget before he stood up to deliver it.

A paper trail discovered he was given £750 for the story.

Prosecutors also said Hall was paid £500 for another story about celebrities being paid to publicise a government website.

But Alexandra Healy QC, defending, said it would be "quite wrong" to convict Ms Hartley of a plot to commit a criminal act.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Jonathan Hall accepted he was paid for supplying stories and will be sentenced for misconduct in February

In her evidence Ms Hartley said she was "frightened" of the Sun's political editor Tom Newton Dunn.

When asked by her lawyer about the "highly pressurised" working environment in the newsroom, she said: "Pretty much after I started, he was bullying."

She added: "I was quite frightened of him but I tried to maintain a professional front and carry on."

Ms Hartley's lawyers told the jury that "she was only doing her job and doing it well, everyone knew what she was doing."

It also was pointed out to the jury that the Sun often advertised on page two that they "paid cash for stories".

'Public interest'

Ms Hartley also claimed the March 2010 budget leak was in the "public interest" and it was important to get the information out before the government had a chance to "spin" it.

After she was found not guilty, Ms Hartley burst into tears and mouthed "thank you" to the jury before leaving the dock.

Prosecutors had also alleged more than £13,000 of payments to Hall were channelled through Miss Bukarewicz's bank account in an effort to conceal the payments.

But the jury was told that Miss Bukarewicz did not know what her partner was doing was illegal.

The court heard he had told her he was a "protected source" and that it was "standard practice at the Sun" to pay people in this way.

She told the jury she thought her partner was providing the newspaper with "better explanation or clarification" on stories.

A spokesperson for News UK, the Sun's publisher, said: "We take staff welfare extremely seriously and adhere to the highest standards. Our processes are robust, and whilst we do not discuss individual cases we are satisfied that the appropriate procedures were followed in this case and a suitable outcome achieved".

Media commentator and journalism professor Roy Greenslade gave evidence on Ms Hartley's behalf and told the BBC he was "delighted" by the verdict.

"From the first moment Clodagh Hartley told me about the charges she faced I realised she had not acted any differently from journalists working for popular newspapers down the years.

"Paying for information from sources, including sensitive sources working in government departments, has a long history," he said.

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