Sun journalist arrested for 'handling' stolen mobile phone never set eyes on it

A Sun reporter arrested 13 months ago for handling stolen goods never set eyes on the relevant item, Press Gazette has learned.

The arrest of Rhodri Phillips at 6.30am on 19 July 2012 by officers from the Operation Tuleta computer-hacking inquiry led to outrage among Sun colleagues at the time.

It has previously been reported that his arrest was linked to an MP’s mobile phone which was handed in to The Sun and that Phillips was tasked with finding out if the phone warranted a ‘security scare’ style story.

Press Gazette has now learned that Phillips never even saw the phone.

The incident dates back to late 2010 when the mobile phone of Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh was handed in to the offices of The Sun.

Press Gazette understands that staffers were told that it had been left on a train and they believed it might contain information which would constitute a security breach. It has since emerged that the phone was stolen from the MP's car.

Phillips was told to make sense of a transcription of material from the phone which was given to him and he wrote a briefing email to the newsdesk, explaining that there was no evidence of a security breach.

No story appeared and it is believed that the phone was handed back to the MP.

Phillips’s email to the newsdesk was turned up by News Corp’s Management and Standards Committee after that body was set up to scour the company for evidence of illegal activity following the phone-hacking scandal and the closure of the News of the World in July 2011.

After the email was passed on by the MSC to the police, Phillips was arrested at his north London home at 6.30am on the morning of 19 July 2012 in front of his wife and two young children, who were aged six and two at the time. 

Officers searched his house for three hours and then drove him two hours across London to Charing Cross police station where he was held for further questioning. He was finally released at 5pm that day.

Police took away mobile phones, private diaries, notebooks and computer equipment from his home which they have yet to return. Phillips was re-bailed four times, but never questioned again.

One legal source said it was "ludicrous" for the police to arrest Phillips on such evidence.

Today Press Gazette asked the Met Police why Phillips warranted such heavy-handed treatment and why it took them 13 months to clear his name.

They declined to comment.

Phillips said yesterday in an email to colleagues: “I am delighted to have been cleared of any wrongdoing after my arrest 13 months ago but my thoughts today are with my colleagues who have been charged or remain on bail.

“This has been a massive ordeal but my family, friends and colleagues have been a tremendous support throughout.”

News UK chief executive Mike Darcey paid tribute to Phillips in the same email saying that he “has continued to perform an outstanding job in his role as a reporter, going above and beyond his duties to edit Sun City on occasion, as well as breaking numerous exclusives for the paper”.

In March this year The Sun’s publisher agreed to a “very substantial payout” to Siobhain McDonagh after she brought a civil action against the paper. It said in a statement that there had been “a serious misuse of her private information”.

At least 59 UK journalists have been arrested since April 2011 by UK police investigating phone and computer-hacking and payments to public officials. So far 11 have been cleared, 24 charged and 24 remain on police bail.

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