Two Sun journalists and a former Daily Mirror reporter today walked free from court after being cleared of conspiracy to misconduct in a public office.
Sun journalists Brandon Malinsky, 50, Neil Millard, 33, and former Daily Mirror journalist Graham Brough were today cleared of all charges after the jury spent some 42 hours deliberating.
The jury also cleared Sun reporter Tom Wells of two charges of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office. But they failed to reach a verdict on one further count of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office against Wells.
The jury retired for a further hour to discuss whether it would be able to reach a verdict on this final charge against Wells and another charge against forner immigration centre officer Mark Blake, 43, from Slough.
After failing to agree a verdict on these final charges the jury was dismissed. The Crown Prosecution Servce will now spend a week deciding whether or not to seek a retrial.
All the charges relate to alleged payments made to public officials for stories.
Over the course of an eight-week trial the Old Bailey heard allegations that Malinsky exchanged emails with Millard over proposed payments to a prison officer at Pentonville for information that pop star George Michael had burst into tears whilst in jail.
Former Serco immigration centre official Blake was alleged to have been paid £8,000 between 2008 and 2010 for ten story tips.
Giving evidence in his defence, Blake told jurors that headlines such as "Gastrojail" and "We fund massages for foreign killers" highlighted problems at the centre.
He said he turned to The Sun because "what was happening in the centre was beyond belief" and he got to the point where he was "ready to explode".
On the attitude of bosses to what he regarded as whistleblowing, Blake said: "I always believed they knew it was me at Colnbrook. They knew it was Mark Blake. Maybe in some perverse way they wanted me to."
Giving evidence in his defence, Sun reporter Wells told jurors he was not given any training at all about whether it might be a crime to pay a public official for stories.
Had he known, he said he "would not have gone anywhere near it", adding: "I'm not the type of person who ever seeks to break the law – I've never even had a speeding ticket."
Wells said he had been "completely transparent" about who his sources were when requesting payments for them.
But no-one at The Sun – whether they be editors, news desk or lawyers – had ever told him that paying a public official might be a crime, he said.