'Subterfuge OK if in public interest'

A judge has supported the use of subterfuge by the press if it is in the public interest after finding an undercover Evening Standard reporter not guilty of attempting to obtain a job at Heathrow Airport under false pretences.

Wayne Veysey, 26, was charged with attempting to obtain a pecuniary advantage on or before 18 April last year and his father David, 57, with attempting to obtain a pecuniary advantage for his son on or before 26 April.

Veysey had tried to obtain a job as a cleaner at Heathrow in order to observe security levels, Harrow Crown Court was told.

Both defendants were found not guilty by Judge Barrington Black, but agreed to be bound over in the sum of £250 for 12 months.

The judge said: “The prosecution is taking an extremely realistic view in not taking the matter to trial and I equally agree that the defendants are taking a totally acceptable view to agree that there is no immediate future similar behaviour by them.

“Having said that, it is clearly in the public interest that a poor standard of safety and security should always be liable to exposure in the free press and in the same way that bully-boys and the greedy are liable to exposure.

“It is therefore acceptable for some subterfuge to be used, provided the aim is in the public interest.”

Wayne Veysey had used a reference provided by his father, in the false name of D R Phillips for Indigo Services (UK).

His QC, Jonathan Caplan, said his client wished to make clear he would have vigorously defended the charges had the trial proceeded.

“He had no intention to obtain any financial benefit from these events or to act dishonestly in any way.” Caplan quoted the Editors’ Code of Practice which states that investigative journalism may sometimes require subterfuge if the story is of sufficient public interest.

Veysey was also charged with attempting to earn remuneration by deception; his father with attempting to obtain a pecuniary advantage for his son.

Neither would comment after the hearing. But Standard editor Veronica Wadley said: “These charges should never have been brought in the first place. This newspaper – which is proud of its investigations – wanted to analyse airport security, which is clearly a matter of huge public interest, especially after the atrocity of September 11.”

A Standard spokesman added: “It was ludicrous for him and his father to face a series of criminal charges, wasting a huge amount of taxpayers’ money and police time.

“If Veysey had been found guilty it would have been a serious blow to press freedom. This is a major victory for press freedom.”

By Cara Teece, Fleetline News Service

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