Police publish reporters' text messages as inspector faces misconduct charges for giving them stories

  • 'Relationships' with reporters resulted in misconduct charge for officer
  • Content of private mobile messages with journalists published by force
  • Inspector is also accused over an 'on demand' press release issued

Sussex Police has published private mobile phone messages allegedly exchanged between a senior police officer and journalists who he is accused of having “formed and maintained” relationships with.

Inspector Lee Lyons is facing a public misconduct hearing next week over 21 allegations set out by the police force.

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

A number of the charges against him also relate to local journalists and BBC staff, none of whom have been named.

The allegation sheet, seen by Press Gazette, describes details of text messages, Whatsapp exchanges and emails.

One of the charges against him – allegation ten – states: “It is alleged that you, from at least May 2012 to the present day, have formed and maintained a relationship with a local news reporter.

"As part of your relationship with her, she has requested, and received from you, information relating to a number of local policing incidents.”

The allegation sheet details various messages exchanged between the pair. For instance, allegation ten says:

At 10.46hrs on 2nd August 2012, she contacted you asking, "Can you confirm something for me pls? Bit sensitive. Hastings sergeant dismissed for racist comment?"

She then provided the officer’s name.

You replied immediately, "Correct, running a story?" When asked for further details, you responded, "Yeah, made fun of a colleague. Other stuff too, can't mention. Poor supervisor"

Press Gazette has asked Sussex Police how it has obtained the content of these messages.

The force said: "Sussex Police became aware of contact with journalists as a result of examination of devices owned by Sussex Police and analysis of Lee Lyons's personal devices, which were obtained with the necessary legal permissions. The investigation has not required or involved any access to records of any other parties."

Over the last four years at least 82 journalists have had their call records viewed by police forces in order to find their sources. This is the first time a police force has published details of the content of a journalist's text messages, to Press Gazette's knowledge.

Lyons is also accused of having “formed and maintained a relationship with a named local journalist” from November 2011 to present.

Allegation 19, relating to this journalist, includes the claim:

Between 14.23hrs and 14.50hrs on 20th November 2011, you had a conversation by text with her in which she told you she had just been chastised by the (Sussex Police) Press Office for not following procedure and failing to reveal her source regarding an exclusive report by her. At 14.40hrs, you texted, "Ask them about the taxi driver robbery in Newhaven instead!"

At 14.44hrs, you added, "Not heard from me, of course!"

You then disclosed details of the incident stating, "…About 2ish maybe. Four suspects used knife assaulted driver and had £100 away. Was also pub assault in Lewes, maybe GBH. Just about 23.30 I think."

Later the same day, at 23.36hrs, you again texted the journalist stating, "I'll keep an eye for another story for you!” and at 23:58hrs “Just as long as you don't tell them who told you…"

Lyons is also accused of leaking details of an incident, first on Facebook and then to a BBC producer.

Allegation one reads:

It is alleged that you, at 18.43hrs on 11th September 2014, posted a message on Facebook stating:

“Can’t go into massive detail, and not for wider posting on FB. Estranged father shot daughter and then shot himself. He died at scene, she is currently at Kings College, London; she will likely die soon but there is a chance she might pull through.”

This relates to a murder investigation – Op Oakfield.

Allegation two says:

It is also alleged that you, from 21.58hrs on the same day, engaged in an imessage correspondence with a BBC producer, in which you commented at 22.25hrs, "Wait until the media get wind of the extremism link." You then added at 22.30hrs, "Egyptian national, claims to have been a 'terrorist'; alleged to have been radicalised. Poss 'honour' killing"

Allegation four says:

It is alleged that you, on the 8th May 2014, composed an email in your Sussex Police Outlook account addressed to PSD_DIU. The content disclosed the fact that you had received a total of three text messages from a named person, whom you describe as being a journalist from a local newspaper, requesting details of a victim of crime. You did not send this email and therefore failed to disclose details of this request to PSD or other authority.

Lyons is then accused, under allegation six, of giving a BBC producer details of fellow police officers’ suspensions via Whatsapp:

When asked for further details, you replied at 19.09hrs, "One is bullying. One is misuse of a Taser.” and at 19.10hrs “Two are to do with a vulnerable victim of crime….”

Allegation seven, eight and nine read:

It is also alleged that you again contacted her on 28th March 2014 by Whats App and from 11.14hrs in a series of messages stated, " One of the new suspended officers is my mate. Looks like he is losing his job….He has been a cock….Sleeved a job…And the victim then got a shoeing."

It is alleged that you, between 19.05hrs and 19.32 hrs on 11th July 2013, transmitted and received messages via whatsApp with a BBC Crimewatch Forward Planning Producer, during which you made arrangements to send her a copy of the operational order for the Pride event in Brighton. At 19.25hrs you sent this document to her work email address.

It is also alleged that you, at 17.40hrs on 8th September 2014, sent an imessage to a BBC Crimewatch Forward Planning Producer in which you stated, "We might have a covert camera nearby, at least we did before I went to Wales." This comment is believed to refer to a recent incident in which a male was stabbed in the chest (Op Rocky).

Lyons is also accused over an "on demand" press release he issued in May 2014. Allegation 18 says:

At 02.29hrs on 25th May 2014, you were working a night shift when you issued an 'on demand' press release relating to Op Fox, a house fire in Marine Parade, Hastings.

It is alleged that you, at 11.35hrs that morning, while off duty posted a message on Facebook in which you stated, "One dead, we think (media not told yet as no body found) one crit in hospital."

The allegation sheet went into more detail on the allegations of relationships between Lyons and the two local journalists referred to above.

The whole of allegation ten reads:

It is alleged that you, from at least May 2012 to the present day, have formed and maintained a relationship with a local news reporter. As part of your relationship with her, she has requested, and received from you, information relating to a number of local policing incidents.

Such incidents include:

(i) On 25th June 2014, she contacted you by imessage requesting details of two missing teenage girls in the Rother area. At 08.47hrs, you responded saying, "One was def found last night. Got nicked for a theft." At 09.49hrs, you went on to disclose, "Minor shoplifting. They are both at risk of exploitation, but nothing organised."

(ii) At 10.46hrs on 2nd August 2012, she contacted you asking, "Can you confirm something for me pls? Bit sensitive. Hastings sergeant dismissed for racist comment?" She then provided the officer’s name.

You replied immediately, "Correct, running a story?" When asked for further details, you responded, "Yeah, made fun of a colleague. Other stuff too, can't mention. Poor supervisor"

(iii) At 11.49hrs on 26th November 2012, you contacted her by imessage stating, "You know that burglary on front page. Well I have news!" You then disclosed at 12.25hrs, "The loser is a solicitor of a leading firm and has refused to give a statement because the suspect is his client. The suspect is part of the traveller community and his firm gets loads of business from them!!!"

(iv) On 28th November 2012, you were again contacted by the same reporter requesting details regarding the policing of Battle. When told by the reporter that she had heard "the Hub are packing up and leaving Battle to merge with Hastings", you replied, "Go with that, pretty well discussed 'secret' with the pc’s!"

(v) At 14.08hrs on 3rd December 2012, you were contacted by the same reporter who asked, "Are you near your hotmail email ATM? Just wanted to forward response from Sussex police and hear your take on it if that's ok?"

You agreed and at 14.53hrs, responded by saying, "That's a shit response” and at 14:54hrs “Would be tempted to run a story saying 'Sussex police have confirmed plans to move response from battle have been ditched' see what happens."

She responded saying, "I'm going down that route…but it would be so so handy if an annonymous source would Care to make a comment…"

When pressed for a reply, at 19.28hrs you said, "I thought I already talked off the record with you?"

(vi) At 16.13hrs on 24th May 2013, you contacted the reporter by imessage stating, "Traveller punch up: 6 in custody."

When asked for further details, you replied, "Catapult was used, minor injuries. Are media giving you the runabout?"

And allegation 19 says:

It is alleged that you, from at least November 2011 to the present day, have formed and maintained a relationship with a named local journalist. As part of your relationship with her, she has requested, and received from you, information relating to a number of local policing incidents.

Such incidents include:

(i) Between 14.23hrs and 14.50hrs on 20th November 2011, you had a conversation by text with her in which she told you she had just been chastised by the (Sussex Police) Press Office for not following procedure and failing to reveal her source regarding an exclusive report by her. At 14.40hrs, you texted, "Ask them about the taxi driver robbery in Newhaven instead!"

At 14.44hrs, you added, "Not heard from me, of course!"

You then disclosed details of the incident stating, "…About 2ish maybe. Four suspects used knife assaulted driver and had £100 away. Was also pub assault in Lewes, maybe GBH. Just about 23.30 I think."

Later the same day, at 23.36hrs, you again texted the journalist stating, "I'll keep an eye for another story for you!” and at 23:58hrs “Just as long as you don't tell them who told you…"

(ii) Between 15.32 and 15.59hrs on 20th December 2011, you disclosed details via text to the reporter regarding the sudden death of an 18 year old in Bexhill. In answer to her question, "U ok if I tell newsdesk?" you replied, "Yeah, happened in the street… Anon though."

(iii) On 21st September 2012, the same reporter emailed both Sussex Police and the Sussex Ambulance Service requesting details of an incident involving a head injury. Both organisations replied that they could not provide details due to it relating to an accident in a private home. At 14.39hrs, she then emailed you at your private email address requesting further details and included an attachment of the Sussex Police Media Relations response to her. At 14.47hrs, you replied to her stating, "It was a home accident, kid fell under some furniture. Air ambulance flew kid and mum to London. Lee Lyons"

Between 28th August and 8th September 2014, you were deployed on Op.Ismay, a public order event in the South Wales Police area. You were there on mutual aid as the inspector in charge of a Sussex Police PSU (Police Support Unit).

Picture: Shutterstock

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