BBC journalist “incited to pervert police investigation”

PA Mediapoint

The jury in the case of a solicitor accused of inventing stories to get a man off a drug supplying offence – unaware he was an undercover investigative reporter – retired today to consider its verdict.

David Lancaster, 55, from Harbourside, Havant, Hampshire, has pleaded not guilty at Exeter Crown Court to attempting to incite another to pervert the course of a police investigation.

The jury heard that at the time of the alleged offence in December 2004, Lancaster was an equity partner with the Portsmouth firm of Warner, Goodman and Streat.

It was alleged that Lancaster incited Neil Ansell – a journalist with the BBC TV Inside Out programme – to pervert the course of justice by providing him with false explanations which had a tendency to pervert the course of a police investigation, and advised him to use them with intent to do the same.

The court has heard Ansell contacted Lancaster posing as a client, with a cover story that he had been named as the supplier of a wrap of cocaine by a friend and arrested by the police.

Prosecutor Peter Blair QC claimed during the appointment with Ansell that Lancaster invented stories that could be used when he went back to the police to answer his bail.

The jury saw a 70-minute video of the appointment, during which Ansell wore a hidden microphone and had a hidden camera.

In his summing-up, Judge Graham Cottle said the defendant accepted he behaved foolishly and unprofessionally but did not intend the course of justice should be interfered with.

The judge said the defendant had made a number of confessions which the jury might think amounted to recognition that he had behaved foolishly, inappropriately and unprofessionally.

Lancaster said in evidence that if Ansell had taken away what he said, he accepted the course of justice could have been perverted – but he did not intend that to happen and it was the furthest thing from his mind.

In his closing speech to the jury, Blair said Lancaster had been caught in the headlights of the evidence and had been jumping around to try and escape the glare of those headlights.

He said Lancaster was a normal intelligent solicitor at work doing what he specialised in doing – advising suspects.

"He most certainly intended to do what he was filmed by the BBC doing," he said.

Defence counsel Patrick Gibbs QC said of Lancaster's video interview with Ansell: "It may be he left his brains in a box for 15 minutes and trotted out a load of clever-dickery without thinking what the consequence of it may be."

Gibbs said Lancaster did not intend any course of justice to be perverted.

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