Akers faces contempt claim over Leveson evidence

The Attorney General is examining the testimony of deputy assistant commissioner Sue Akers to the Leveson Inquiry following claims her evidence could be in contempt of court.

During her second evidence session on 27 February, Akers gave extensive details of the investigation into alleged criminality at The Sun – claiming there was a “culture of illegal payments” to public officials.

The Operation Elveden investigation into allegations of corruption and illegal payments to police has resulted in the arrest of 11 Sun journalists at the newspaper since November.

No charges been brought against any of those arrested.

On 17 February News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch announced that all staff who were arrested would be allowed to return to work, telling staff: ‘Everyone is innocent until proven otherwise.”

According to the Daily Mail the Attorney General Dominic Grieve is considering whether Akers’ evidence could prevent any suspects from receiving a fair trial if any charges are brought.

It is not known if the complaint to Grieve was made by the newspaper or its parent company News International, reports the Mail, with both companies unwilling to comment.

A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office said: ‘Evidence given during the Leveson Inquiry has been drawn to the attention of the Attorney General’s Office.

‘The Attorney General will consider the concerns raised in due course.”

Proceedings are “active” from the moment a suspect has been arrested meaning journalists and others are covered by the 1981 Contempt of Court Act which bans publication of anything which could create a “substantial risk of serious impediment or prejudice to a future trial”.

Grieve has been stringent in enforcing this law when it comes to members of the press. The Sun and Mirror were both found guilty of contempt of court following the arrest of Chris Jefferies in connection with the murder of Joanna Yeates even though he was later released without charge and never faced trial.

Niri Shan, a media lawyer at Taylor Wessing, said while Akers’ comments could be considered “injudicious”, nothing she said was in contempt of court

”Contempt potentially arises after someone has been arrested and if something is said that gives rise to a substantial risk of serious prejudice to their trial,” said Shan.

“In my view, whilst statements made by Sue Akers may be regarded as injudicious, nothing Sue Akers has said could be regarded as being in contempt of court because her written statement, and oral evidence were given to a public inquiry and are therefore, protected by privilege.

“Moreover, the police officers and journalists who have been arrested have not been charged. Even if they are charged, it is unlikely that their trials will take place until well into 2013 so it is not likely that anything she said, even if it wasn’t protected by privilege, would meet the test of contempt.”

  • To contact the Press Gazette newsdesk call 020 7936 6433 or email pged@pressgazette.co.uk

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