Inspector sacked over non-criminal leaks to journalists - but force refuses to confirm use of RIPA to expose contact

A Sussex Police inspector has been dismissed over uncontested allegations that he provided stories to journalists.

There is no suggestion that money changed hands between Lee Lyons and the journalists, and the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to bring criminal charges.

Last week, in a document outlining the 21 allegations against Lyons, Sussex Police published messages exchanged between Lyons and the journalists, who have not been named.

The force said it became aware of the contact after "examination of devices owned by Sussex Police and analysis of Lee Lyons's personal devices, which were obtained with the necessary legal permissions".

Sussex Police has refused to tell Press Gazette whether these "legal permissions" were under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. 

If RIPA was used – and Press Gazette has been forced to ask this question under the Freedom of Information Act – it would show that Sussex Police was one of 19 forces which used the act to obtain phone records to find journalistic sources in the three years to 6 October 2014.

Details of the allegations against Lyons were released as part of Sussex Police's first public misconduct hearing following their introduction across the country earlier this year.

The hearing was chaired by chief constable Giles York and heard "that over a period of around three years Lee Lyons had accessed Force computer systems on numerous occasions using information obtained to pass details, including restricted operational documents, to two journalists working on publications in Sussex, a television news programme producer and a barrister – all females". 

Detective inspector Nick Wainwright said the contact came to light when "very sensitive details of four cases were passed over a matter of a few days to a journalist who then sought clarification of the information".

He added: "As a result of this, Deputy Chief Constable Olivia Pinkney tasked the anti-corruption unit with identifying the source of the leak and a host of other incidents were discovered.

"Some of these took place while Lyons was on duty; others, including the passing on of restricted operational documents, were carried out off duty.

"He was suspended on October 2, 2014. No complaint has been received about the matter from an external party."

DCC Olivia Pinkney said: "Sussex Police expects the highest personal and professional standards of anyone who works for us and any allegations of behaviour that do not meet those standards will be rigorously investigated.

"Lyons was passing on information that was operationally sensitive and may well have had an effect on victims or their families or may have had a negative impact on community tension.

"I asked our anti-corruption unit to investigate and Lyons was identified as the potential source. The investigation has been complex, but as soon as he was identified, we immediately suspended him.

"While I am saddened that it has been necessary to take such action at all, I am pleased with the result, which highlights our determination not to allow people like this to taint the name of Sussex Police and the enormous amount of work carried out day-to-day by thousands of hard-working and enormously dedicated police officers and staff."

After the hearing, Pinkney said the Crown Prosecution Service had decided no criminal charges would be brought against Lyons, 40, and that the matter could be dealt with by misconduct proceedings.

Also included in the allegation list were claims he contacted prostitutes while on duty, shared information with a lawyer friend and had been “rude, arrogant and unprofessional” to colleagues.

Lyons was alleged to have "formed and maintained" relationships with two journalists. He was also accused over contact with BBC journalists and creating an "on demand" press release.

More details of the allegations against Lyons can be found here.

Picture credit: BBC

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