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As prosecutors review journalists' corruption trials, is Operation Elveden over?

By James Doleman

April 7, 2015 | 4 min read

Court reporter James Doleman rounds up the latest legal developments as prosecutors reconsider the upcoming trials and retrials of journalists arrested as part of Operation Elveden.

The Court of Appeal's decision on 26 March to overturn the convictions of a former News of the World reporter, a prison officer and his former partner for misconduct in a public office continues to cause reverberations around the legal system.

It was a huge blow for the Crown Prosecution Service and the police, not only overturning one of the only two convictions they have succeeded in getting against journalists in the long running operation, but also throwing the other, that of Ryan Sabey, into serious doubt.

In court six of the Old Bailey, were three Sun reporters and one Daily Mirror reporter are standing trial, the jury was told that the threshold needed to convict is now conduct so serious as to "demand condemnation and punishment". The jury was also told they should regard this as a "high bar" and only return guilty verdicts if this was met.

Meanwhile in court two at the Bailey, the trial of a former News of the World journalist and a prison worker, which was due to start on Monday, was postponed as the Crown barrister told the court that they wished to have time to review the consequences of the Court of Appeal's decision.

Judge Wide, who was the trial judge whose directions were overturned, welcomed the "helpful judgement" of the court and gave the Crown until 24 April to "give mature consideration" to the issues involved. It was clear that this would include all of the Elveden cases involving the 8-10 other journalists due to go to court in the next few months.

For the CPS to drop the forthcoming trials and retrials would be a huge embarrassment. It is facing huge criticism from the media, and not just the tabloid press but also the Guardian and the Times. If they are not dropped there have already been changes to the prosecution legal strategy with a move away from charges of "conspiracy" to substantive charges of "aiding and abetting," with the latter charge believed to be easier to explain to a jury.

It's not all bad news for the prosecution; while its record in securing convictions against the newspaper reporters who paid public officials for stories remains poor, the people who took the payments continue to be convicted, and imprisoned. On 1 April, a former police officer, Simon Quinn, received an 18 month sentence after pleading guilty to misconduct in a public office. Quinn was paid at least £7,000 by the Sun for information including details of the investigation into the death of schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

The next development in the Elveden story will not be long in coming. As mentioned above, three Sun reporters and one Daily Mirror reporter are currently on trial at the Old Bailey. The evidence and closing speeches are complete and, after the Easter Break, Judge Marks will sum up and the jury will retire to consider their verdicts. They will be closely watched.

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