Thames Valley Police has denied any wrongdoing after the case against journalist Sally Murrer was thrown out because evidence was obtained by bugging.
The part-time reporter for the Milton Keynes Citizen Murrer was accused of encouraging a police officer to leak confidential information but was cleared at Kingston Crown Court, along with her police source, after a judge found that Thames Valley Police had no right to bug their conversation.
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In a statement, Thames Valley Police said it was disappointed that the trial of Murrer’s source, detective seargant Mark Kearney, would not go ahead, and said that their methods were independently scrutinised as part of an annual inspection.
‘It is noted that during the legal arguments the judge commented that the methods used to obtain the evidence were lawfully authorised by domestic law and that the actions of the police were proportionate,’said the statement.
“However, the judge ruled that under the Human Rights Act, even though information obtained might be of a confidential nature, the consequences of disclosure had to be very serious, such as threatening national security.’
Thames Valley Police said that it behaved ‘entirely properly’in obtaining evidence that Kearney passed information to Murrer.
‘Kearney was employed as a prison liaison officer at a high security prison at the time the offences were allegedly committed,’it said.
The statement said that working with the Crown Prosecution Service it was decided that there was sufficient evidence to bring charges against Kearney, Murrer and co-defendants Derek Webb and Harry Kearney.
“The leaking of sensitive information is a serious matter which can jeopardise police investigations, put officers and members of the public at risk and lead to criminal and misconduct charges.”
Thames Valley Police added it will continue to take a ‘robust stance’against any member of staff leaking information, which it said remains a serious police misconduct offence under the new 2008 Police Conduct Regulations and is also a police staff disciplinary offence which may lead to dismissal.
‘The public has a right to expect that officers and police staff who have access to sensitive information can be trusted to handle the material appropriately.”
The National Union of Journalists said that the Murrer case was another example of members of the police force ‘believing they were above the law”, and ‘able to trample over well-established journalistic rights and freedoms”.
NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said: ‘The importance of journalism to our democracy and society has been recognised for hundreds of years and is clearly enshrined in law.
“Let’s be clear, this was an attempt to make a criminal out of a journalist for receiving information that the state didn’t want to get out. It was a misguided prosecution that sought to punish Sally for simply doing her job.”
Dear added that Murrer was under ‘intolerable pressure’over the last year, in which she was ‘forced to live under a cloud of uncertainty and stress”.
‘The NUJ pays tribute to Sally for her bravery and resilience in standing up for her principles throughout the case,’he said.
‘This judgment sends a clear message to the authorities: they must recognise the importance of free and open journalism.
“Hard questions must now be asked of the police and CPS as to why these costly proceedings were allowed to get so far.”