The trial: How one email cost a reporter his job, his savings and 18 months of his life

Some may still feel that the many tabloid journalists hit by the full force of UK criminal justice in recent years have received their just deserts.
 
They should meet John Troup.

Since May 2013 former Sun district reporter Troup, 49, has been living a story that would have done Franz Kafka proud.
 
Despite being found innocent by a jury last month, today he is jobless and in debt, having spent 18 months living through a “nightmare”.
 
Troup says he was “gobsmacked” when he was called in for questioning by the Metropolitan Police's Operation Elveden inquiry into payments made by tabloid journalists to public employees in May 2013.
 
And even now, after living through a three-month trial at Kingston Crown Court, he only has theories about why the police and Crown Prosecution Service felt it necessary to spend millions of pounds trying to put him behind bars.

The prosecution against him was based on one email and on his alleged involvement in publishing a story which was undeniably in the public interest.
 
Troup was one of six serving and former Sun journalists to face trial at Kingston for conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office over allegations they paid public employees for story tips.
 
The charge that all six were involved in an “over-arching conspiracy” was thrown out by the judge before even being considered by the jury.

Traditionally conspiracies require conspirators, but as the prison officer Troup is alleged to have paid £300 to was never identified he found himself in a conspiracy of one.

So it is perhaps not surprising that he was found not guilty (as was Sun picture editor John Edwards on a separate conspiracy charge). Co-defendants Graham Dudman, Chris Pharo, Ben O'Driscoll and Jamie Pyatt face a retrial later this year after the jury failed to agree a verdict on further charges against them.
 
Unlike his fellow defendants, Troup lost his job because of the case so he has paid a particularly heavy price.
 
'A massive blow, totally out of the blue'
 
He stopped working for The Sun in July 2009 when he was made redundant from his job as a long-serving district reporter covering East Anglia: “I’d been around the world, done some massive stories and felt I could look back on my journalistic career with great pride.”
 
He decided to make a “clean break” and moved into PR, spending “four great years” at Southend on Sea Borough Council as a media relations officer.

“I really enjoyed it, it was a great town to work in. I liked the job because I thoroughly believe all organisations should be employing journalists to do their PR.”
 
In late 2012 Troup was “headhunted “by Uttlesford District Council in his picturesque home town of Saffron Walden (picture, Shutterstock), Essex, to work as media relations manager.

It was a step up for Troup and meant the end of his daily three-hour commute.
 
Four months in to his new job he received a telephone call from the Met telling him to come in for questioning.

He says: “It came as a massive blow and totally out of the blue. When the first arrests started happening at The Sun I had racked my brain to think if there was any way I was going to get embroiled in this. I couldn’t think of anything.

“I’d been responsible for paying hundreds of people for stories, but I couldn’t think of a single time when I’d paid a public official.”

He adds: “My natural inclination is to help the police. Even now I would really love to work in the comms team for a police force because I believe in what the police do.”

But he says he was advised by his lawyer to give a “no comment” interview, which he believes was the right thing to do – not least because he could remember nothing about the circumstances of his alleged crime.

Troup was arrested in connection with a four-paragraph story which appeared in The Sun in November 2007.
 
He says he could just remember the story, about a prison inmate killing themselves, but nothing else.

The police showed Troup an email written by him to a Sun colleague apparently explaining why a cash payment was needed for the tip. Troup explained in the email that it was because the source was a prison officer.
 
During questioning, he says it was clear the police had no other evidence and no idea who the alleged prison informant was.

Troup says: “I thought, how the hell are they going to prove this?”. Four months on, in August 2013, he was “absolutely gobsmacked to be told I was going to be charged over this”.
 
'We were made to feel like we were terrorists'

When he told his employers their reaction was, as he puts it, “fairly brutal”. After first being invited to resign, he was sacked for “bringing the council into disrepute”.

He says: “It was difficult for me because I lost my job and it wasn’t going to be easy for me to get employment with this hanging over me.”

So from September 2013 to the start of the trial just over a year later he has done a variety of low-paid jobs  – from working as a labourer, to washing beer kegs and slicing bacon.

He says: “It’s been a nightmare. The one thing that’s kept me going is the support of friends and colleagues. There were three months of going to court every day from Saffron Walden where I had to sit in that dock behind plate glass. 

“We were made to feel like we were terrorists – for doing nothing more than writing stories that were true and in the public interest.
 
“If a story about someone killing themselves in a maximum security prison isn’t in the public interest, what is?”

Troup speculates that perhaps he was only drawn into the case as “collateral” to help the CPS make the conspiracy charge stick against one of his co-defendants.


The email which did so much to destroy Troup’s career was one of many handed over to police by Sun owner News Corp’s Management and Standards Committee.
 

Headed by former Telegraph editor Will Lewis, the MSC was charged by News Corp with the job of “draining the swamp”, as one company lawyer put it, in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal which closed the News of the World in June 2011.

Disclosures by the MSC have led to the arrests of some 25 Sun journalists and many more of their sources.

Troup doesn’t recall writing the email in question and admits it could mean he was referring to paying a prison officer (or someone who was at least describing themselves as a prison officer).

It was a colleague who phoned the Ministry of Justice to stand the story up. Troup does not believe that he wrote it.
 
The MoJ press office responded to questions from The Sun by quickly putting out a press release announcing the death in custody, this scuppering The Sun’s exclusive.

Troup’s view is that revealing this man's suicide, which had been concealed from the public by prison authorities, was clearly in the public interest and the fact  that the MoJ released the information underlines the fact that it should be in the public domain.
 
Troup admits that he may well have paid a prison officer for the tip, but feels that this beside the point.

“The whole point of being a journalist in a democratic and free society is – if someone’s giving you something in the public interest and they say they want paying for it…It’s the information you're interested in.

“We’ve got at least a moral obligation to give it to them. If that’s what they want and there’s no other way the story’s going to come out then that’s okay in my book.
 
“The law has got to be looked at otherwise how would the Telegraph have ever got the MPs’ expenses story?"

Many believe because of Operation Elveden, and the Bribery Act coming into force in 2011, the MPs’ expenses scandal could not be exposed today.

To get the 2009 story, which led to so many MPs losing their jobs, and in some cases also their liberty, the Telegraph paid a government employee £110,000 for a hard-drive containing the unredacted expenses claims of every MP.

The irony of the fact that News Corp’s MSC was headed up by the Telegraph editor who led up the MPs’ expenses investigation, Will Lewis, is not lost on Troup.

He says: “It makes it all the more galling In my book.”
 
News International's 'double betrayal'
 
Troup praises current Sun editor David Dinsmore, who he says, “stuck his neck out” to ensure that he and other defendants no longer employed by The  Sun had their legal fees paid.

Without this support he would now be financially ruined by the legal costs.

But he is otherwise scathing abut the way his former employer has behaved.
 
“It was the double betrayal of being made redundant from a job I loved by News International in 2009 and then losing a career I’d worked really hard to build for myself four years later through the worst kind of betrayal imaginable. By somebody looking over my confidential emails.”
 
He adds: “Assuming the person I spoke to was a prison officer, it is someone from the office who would have told me to speak to them in the first place. I’ve been hung out to dry.”
 
As far as the court process goes, Troup says: “I found it okay. I walked away from it feeling a lot better than when I walked into it."

Troup travelled from Essex to Kingston throughout his three-month trial, slicing bacon in a butcher’s at the weekends. He notes wryly: “I couldn’t slice enough bacon in a weekend to pay the travel costs between Norfolk and Kingston.”
 
But he says the camaraderie and gallows humour between the co-defendants kept him going.
 

'For something to be a crime there has to be a victim'
 
Troup still does not understand why the Crown Prosecution Service chose to put him on trial.
 
Of the 34 journalists arrested and/or charged under Operation Elveden probe there have so far been only two convictions: a former News of the World journalist who can’t yet be named who was found guilty by a jury and former News of the World and Sunday Mirror journalist Dan Evans who admitted the offence.
 
Six journalists have been found not guilty by a jury and seven face retrials after the jury failed to reach a verdict.
 
Troup says: “For something to be a crime there has to be a victim. Who is the victim when journalists are writing stories about things people need to know about?

“When are the CPS going to take the view that they’ve had enough humiliation and say let’s just can this, it’s not going anywhere.
 
“So far juries appear to be coming down on the side of journalists paying for stories when they are in the public interest.”
 
Troup is now looking to rebuild is career working in PR and communications.
 
“I feel like I’ve got a very good skillset from having done things on both sides of the fence.”

He warns that unless the law, or the approach of prosecutors, changes, what happened to him could happen to many other journalists.
 
“We’ve all worked on various stories where we’ve spoken to be people in circumstances where it is not entirely clear who they are," he says.
 
“But as journalists we are interested in the information. You should not be worried about being dragged through the courts for doing your job and doing what journalists have been doing for hundreds of years. The whole thing has been Kafkaesque.”

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