Sun crime reporter Anthony France clears 'first hurdle' in bid to get Operation Elveden conviction overturned

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Sun crime reporter Anthony France, the only journalist to have been convicted under Operation Elveden, passed the first stage in having his conviction overturned by the Court of Appeal.

Following a hearing this morning, the three appeal court judges agreed to hear arguments for overturning the conviction later this year.

The decision, made today by England’s second highest court, was described by France’s lawyer Richard Kovalevsky QC as “the first hurdle” in appealing his conviction for aiding and abetting misconduct in public office.

France, 42, from Watford, was convicted following trial at the Old Bailey in May last year.

He was said to have cultivated a “corrupt relationship” over two years with Timothy Edwards, then working at Heathrow Airport in the SO15 counter-terrorism command squad, with the paper paying Edwards more than £22,000 in exchange for a total of 38 stories and titbits of information.

France was sentenced to 18 months in prison, suspended for two years, as well as 200 hours of community service. He has since completed the latter at an Oxfam charity shop where he is said to still volunteer from time to time. Edwards was senteced to two years in jail.

Speaking on his client’s behalf, Kovalevsky told Press Gazette: “We have gone through the first hurdle in that the court has accepted that we have got very arguable grounds and they want an exposition of the argument.”

France’s appeal case hinges on the argument that there is a public interest mitigation in the exposure of confidential information to a member of the press and that this was not properly explained to jurors.

Kovalevsky said:  “We are looking forward to presenting the argument that was presented in all other Elveden trials but wasn’t given to the jury in France’s trial. The judge’s summing up was deficient.  He should have gone further in assisting the jury in [explaining the] public interest.”

The Crown Prosecution Service were not in court today and now must respond to the argument put forward by France’s legal team by 8 June. The case review hearing is expected to take place at the Court of Appeal in September or October.

Operation Elveden was launched in 2011 in the wake of the News of the World phone hacking scandal to investigate payments by journalists to public officials.

Former Sunday Mirror journalist Dan Evans did not go to trial after pleading guilty to aiding and abetting misconduct in public office. Some 13 journalists have been found not guilty by juries.

During his trial France denied wrongdoing, saying he had never been advised by anyone at The Sun that speaking to a police officer – or any public official – might be against the law.

Asked what he would have done if he thought talking to Edwards might be illegal, he said: “I would never have got involved with it. I would have told him to get lost. I’m a man of good character not involved in crime.”

France’s legal fees are being paid for by The Sun.

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