'They call it a crime, we call it democracy' - lawyers condemn 'unmitigated disaster' of journalist trials

“They call it a crime, we call it a democracy.” This was the verdict of one defence lawyer after the Operation Elveden prosecution of journalists over payments for stories concluded yesterday with the acquittal of Sun staffers Jamie Pyatt and Chris Pharo.

Some 34 journalists have been arrested on suspicion of making payments to public officials since 2011, many of them in dawn raids on their homes.

Yesterday’s verdict at the Old Bailey means that off those 34, two convictions stand – the rest have all been cleared. One jouranalist, former Sunday Mirror and News of the World reporter Dan Evans, admitted various offences and gave evidence against colleagues to avoid jail.

The only conviction at trial which now stands, that of The Sun’s Anthony France, is being appealed.

Defence lawyers for the Elveden journalists have condemned the Crown Prosecution Service for proceeding with the prosecutions.

Michael Potts, of Byrne and partners, said : "The CPS decision to prosecute numerous journalists in Operation Elveden has proved an unmitigated disaster.

"Despite juries' rejecting case after case, the damage to journalists has already been done with many, who were just doing their jobs, subjected to raids, arrests, significant delays in investigations as well as prolonged, unjust criminal proceedings.

"The process which led to the decision to prosecute these individuals needs to be scrutinised and questions asked. This is even more important now given the ends have in no way justified the means.

"There can be no proper compensation for suspending the careers of the journalists involved. Each one now has to rebuild their lives in the most challenging of circumstances."

John Butterfield QC, of No 5 chambers, said: "It is extraordinary and troubling in a supposedly free society to have journalists on trial for articles written in good faith during the course of their job. We need journalists to be brave, we need them to be pushing at the edges.

"A key part of democracy is a free press because people in power don't like us knowing what they're up to.

"If there's any form of whistleblowing, it is justifiable for money to change hands. It is appropriate to reimburse the whistleblower against the possibility they might be sacked. They call it a crime, we call it democracy."

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