Guilty plea from Sun prison source sees 27th public official convicted for taking payments from journalists - Press Gazette

Guilty plea from Sun prison source sees 27th public official convicted for taking payments from journalists

A former official who leaked stories to the Sun about a Serco-run immigration centre has pleaded guilty to misconduct in a public office.

While working as a detention custody officer, Mark Blake, 42, from Slough, was paid nearly £8,000 for tips about the Colnbrook secure immigration removal centre which resulted in ten stories being published by the tabloid newspaper over three years.

As well as naming individuals including a 9/11 plotter, the articles highlighted issues with the way the centre was run with headlines such as "Wiis for foreign lags in UK jails", "Gastrojail" and "We fund massages for foreign killers".

Following a trial at the Old Bailey in March, a jury could not agree a verdict on whether Blake's dealings with Sun reporter Tom Wells amounted to misconduct.

The Crown Prosecution Service later announced it would pursue a re-trial against Blake while dropping the case against his co-accused Wells.

On the day the retrial was scheduled to start, Blake changed his plea to guilty after hearing that he may be spared jail to look after his two children.

Blake's lawyer, Graham Trembath QC, had formally applied to Judge Mark Lucraft QC for an indication on what the maximum sentence would be if the defendant changed his plea.

In his response, Judge Lucraft noted the impact of the harm caused by the stories was difficult to quantify although it did affect the reputation of Serco and the UK Border Agency and made external recruitment more difficult.

The court heard that Blake had admitted that his motivation was partly financial and partly public interest.

The judge also took into account various factors raised by Trembath including the length of time since the offence and the fact that Blake is the primary carer of his two sons, aged six and 13.

He concluded that ordinarily after a trial the maximum sentence would be 18 months in custody, but a guilty plea would reduce that to 15 months.

The judge told the court that a pre-sentence report would be needed to assess the impact of custody on Blake's children which could provide "strong reasons" for suspending the sentence.

Blake, who sat in the well of the court, pleaded guilty to a single count of misconduct in a public office between January 2008 and December 2010.

He was granted conditional bail until sentencing at the Old Bailey on 21 September.

The guilty please makes Blake the 27th public official convicted of criminal offences as a result of the Operation Elveden police inquiry into payments made by journalists to public officials. Two journalists have been convicted misconduct in a public office offensives under Elveden.



Press Gazette's must-read weekly newsletter featuring interviews, data, insight and investigations.