Media

Press must 'work within law' judge tells court at trial of former Sun reporter

By James Doleman |

August 12, 2014 | 4 min read

The judge at the trial of former Sun journalist Ben Ashford began his summing up today by reminding the jury that while an independent and robust press was a vital part of the democratic process it must operate within the law.

Brian Barker QC, the Recorder of London, told the seven women and five men of the the jury: "You are making an important decision for both the defendant and society," and cautioned them to put out of their minds "any views you have about News International or any other trials in this building you may have heard about".

Brian Barker QC

Ashford, 35, was working in The Sun's Manchester office in 2009 when he was instructed to pick up a mobile phone from a tipster and check it for text messages and pictures exchanged between the phone's owner and a well known TV presenter. The phone, the court has been told, was stolen from a nightclub a few days earlier.

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The journalist was arrested in 2012 after News International handed internal emails to police investigating misconduct at tabloid newspapers. Ashford was later charged with two offences under the Proceeds of crime act and the Computer misuse act, which he denies.

Earlier in the trial Ashford testified that he was unaware the phone had been stolen, and also suggested that as The Sun's London news-desk was aware of his actions he had trusted them to "know what they were doing" as they would have been able to take legal advice from their duty solicitors.

The judge told the jury that while they could draw an "adverse inference" from the fact that Ashford gave no comment when interviewed by police, it he still had a right to remain silent. He also asked the jury to note that neither ignorance of the law, or "simply following instruction" constituted a valid legal defence to the charges the former journalist faces.

Turning to the defence case Barker told the jury that they should consider the defendant's previous good character which, although not decisive, should be "added to the scales in his favour" when they were considering the credibility of Ashford's testimony.

He also asked the jury to recall the former journalist's statements that "there was a very different journalistic climate" in 2009 before the Leveson inquiry into press ethics and that he had returned the phone to its owner in "good faith" after its owner, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had tweeted that it had been stolen.

Court then adjourned for the day, with the jury now due to retire and consider its verdict tomorrow morning.

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