Anthony France's Operation Elveden acquittal ends a shameful episode in the history of UK criminal justice system

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The successful appeal of Sun reporter Anthony France means that of 34 journalists arrested and/or charged under the Met Police’s Operation Elveden no convictions at trial stand.

For France is is the end of a nightmare which began on 17 January 2013 with his arrest.

His career has been on hold since then. But the real story is one of needless pain and suffering endured by both France and his family.

France’s acquittal closes the book on Operation Elveden which began with its first arrests in July 2011. It has been a shameful episode in the history of this country’s criminal justice system (and that of two of its press owners).

The largest investigation in police criminal history was directed at journalists and their sources.

The Met Police and Crown Prosecution Service effectively made up a law on the hoof.

They used the obscure offence of misconduct in public office against journalists who paid state employees for stories.

This had never been tried before. Most juries did not understand why journalists pursuing stories were being treated like criminals and chose to acquit.

Operation Elveden began to unravel in April 2015 when former News of the World reporter Lucy Panton was cleared on appeal.

The judge in that case ruled that for journalists to be convicted it had to be proven that the stories they had published harmed the public interest.

Nine other journalists had the cases against them them dropped in the wake of that decision, but that of France continued to trial.

Now the Court of Appeal has ruled that the judge in the France case erred by not directing the jury to take into account the Panton ruling.

Some 20 of the journalists targeted by police under Operation Elveden worked for The Sun. Many never returned to the paper.

There have been suicide attempts, breakdowns and multiple careers ruined. Some, like Lucy Panton who had to pay her own legal costs, were wiped out financially.

In every case the period between arrest, charge, trial and acquittal was spread out over several years.  Many families faced the terror of a dozen police officers raiding their homes in dawn raids before journalist suspects were carted off for questioning. Some of the children who witnessed all this suffered lasting trauma.

The Met claims Operation Elveden was a success because around 30 journalistic sources were convicted (mainly police and prison officers), most of whom were sent to prison.

It should be remembered that Elveden was created by News Corp which, in its eagerness to attone for the hacking scandal cover-up, shared confidential emails between journalists and sources with the Met Police.

Trinity Mirror also chose to co-operate with the Met incriminating a smaller number of its journalists and sources.

The sources have paid a far heavier price than the journalists. Many are now destitute after losing their jobs, paying the costs of their own defences and serving terms in prison.

The conclusion of the France case means there is no excuse now for News Corp and Trinity Mirror to continue to maintain their silence about why they chose to betray the first principle of journalistic ethics.

They conducted their own searches of email databases and volunteered information which incriminated journalists and their sources to avoid corporate prosecutions.

But the France case illustrates the fact that the journalists should never have been charged in the first place, rather the companies which were responsible for the culture in which they operated.

France was introduced to his police source by a senior colleague. It was the Sun accounts department, not France, which paid Timothy Edwards £22,000 for 38 stories and pieces of information.

The payments were sanctioned at the most senior level of the company. There was nothing secretive in what France did. He did what he was paid, trained and told to do as a footsoldier in the company hierarchy.

If anyone should have been charged over Operation Elveden it was News International (as was) or parent company News Corp and Trinity Mirror. Not the journalists those companies chose to throw to the wolves.

What sort of a country puts journalists who wrote true stories about matters of public interest behind bullet proof glass at its top criminal court?

Press Gazette recognised from an early stage that a great injustice was being perpetrated and that the Elveden accused fell into a different category from those involved in phone-hacking.

I gave evidence on behalf of two Elveden journalists and chronicled every step of this national scandal.

We played our own small part in turning the tide on Elveden by publishing an financial appeal for Lucy Panton which enabled her to pay the legal fees for her successful appeal.

It is my great pleasure to republish the spreadsheet I’ve maintained detailing the 34 journalists arrested and/or charged under Elveden with Anthony France moved from “guilty” to cleared.

The only Elveden conviction of a journalist was that of former Mirror and News of the World reporter Dan Evans, who admitted paying for stories in addition to phone-hacking and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

The 34 UK journalists arrested and/or charged under Operation Elveden

Name Title First arrested Charged Result
Andy Coulson NoW 08/07/2011 Yes Cleared (guilty hacking)
Clive Goodman NoW 08/07/2011 Yes Cleared
Rebekah Brooks NoW, Sun 17/07/2011 Yes Not guilty verdict
Dan Evans NoW, Mirror 19/08/2011 Yes Guilty plea
Jamie Pyatt The Sun 04/11/2011 Yes Not guilty verdict
Lucy Panton NoW 15/12/2011 Yes Guilty verdict overturned on appeal
Chris Pharo The Sun 28/01/2012 Yes Not guilty verdict
Graham Dudman The Sun 28/01/2012 Yes Cleared
Mike Sullivan The Sun 28/01/2012 No Cleared
Fergus Shanahan The Sun 28/01/2012 Yes Not guilty verdict
John Sturgis The Sun 11/02/2012 No Cleared
Geoff Webster The Sun 11/02/2012 Yes Not guilty verdict
John Kay The Sun 11/02/2012 Yes Not guilty verdict
Nick Parker The Sun 11/02/2012 Yes Not guilty verdict (guilty handling)
Virginia Wheeler The Sun 01/03/2012 Yes Charges dropped health grounds
Duncan Larcombe The Sun 19/04/2012 Yes Not guilty verdict
Clodargh Hartley The Sun 25/05/2012 Yes Not guilty verdict
Neil Millard The Sun 14/06/2012 Yes Not guilty verdict
Greig Box-Turnbull Daily Mirror 04/07/2012 Yes Cleared
Tom Savage Daily Star Sunday 11/07/2012 Yes Not guilty verdict
Justin Penrose Sunday Mirror 11/07/2012 No Cleared
Vince Soodin The Sun 08/08/2012 Yes Cleared
John Coles The Sun 19/09/2012 No Cleared
Tom Wells The Sun 19/09/2012 Yes Not guilty verdict
Woman, 38 06/12/2012 No Cleared
Anthony France The Sun 17/01/2013 Yes Guilty verdict

Cleared

John Troup* The Sun 21/05/2013 Yes Not guilty verdict
John Edwards The Sun 21/06/2013 Yes Not guilty verdict
Ben O’Driscoll* The Sun 12/09/2013 Yes Cleared
Man, 43 Freelance 13/09/2013 No Cleared
Graham Brough* Daily Mirror 26/02/2014 Yes Not guilty verdict
Brandon Malinsky* The Sun 26/02/2014 Yes Not guilty verdict
Stephen Moyes* NoW, Sun 16/04/2014 Yes Cleared
Ryan Sabey* NoW 15/08/2014 Yes Guilty verdict overturned on appeal

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