The first criminal trial stemming from News Corp.’s bribery scandal began today with a senior London police detective accused of trying to sell the News of the World details about a phone-hacking probe into the tabloid.
April Casburn, a detective chief inspector with the Metropolitan Police Service, called the newspaper on Sept. 11, 2010, to reveal that a new voice-mail interception probe had started a day earlier and six potential suspects were linked to the tabloid, prosecutor Mark Bryant-Heron told a London court.
Casburn, who worked on counter-terrorism cases, admits she made the call because she believed resources in her unit were being wasted on investigating the phone-hacking scandal, which she didn’t think was either a criminal matter or one that could be successfully prosecuted. She denies seeking a bribe.
“She sought to undermine the investigation at the very sensitive time of its launch,” Bryant-Heron said. While Casburn claims the disclosure was altruistic, she chose to tell “the very newspaper involved in the investigation.”
Casburn, who was charged in September with misconduct in public office, which abused the public’s trust, is the first person on trial since the start of Operation Elveden, one of three police investigations into wrongdoing at News Corp.’s U.K. newspapers. News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch closed the News of the World in July 2011 to help quell public anger over the phone-hacking scandal, while the bribery probe has focused on his Sun tabloid title.
In a phone call that lasted eight minutes and 37 seconds, Casburn, who didn’t identify herself, offered to talk about the probe to determine if there was any truth to news articles about alleged phone hacking by News of the World journalists in 2005 and 2006, prosecutors say.
One of the suspects Casburn spoke of to the tabloid was Andy Coulson, its former editor who at the time was the chief press aide to Prime Minister David Cameron. Coulson resigned from Cameron’s staff in 2011 and was later charged in the phone-hacking and bribery probes.
Casburn only named two suspects, and Coulson had already been identified in newspaper articles as being involved in phone hacking, her lawyer, Patrick Gibbs, said. At the time the call was made, Casburn was under a lot of stress and was being bullied at work, Gibbs said.
Former News of the World employee Tim Wood took Casburn’s phone call at the end of a 13-hour night shift and sent an e-mail about the conversation to then-editor Ian Edmondson. Wood told the jury today he had suspected the call might be part of an undercover police probe because it was unusual for a caller to claim to be a police officer and offer to sell information, especially about phone hacking.
“I thought it might be somebody trying to catch the paper out,” Wood said. “If it were caught on tape, it would get the newspaper in a lot of trouble -- I thought it might be a sting operation.”
Eight people have been charged in the phone-hacking probe, including Edmondson and Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive officer of News Corp.’s U.K. publishing unit.
Casburn said she was upset that former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott seemed to be interfering in the matter by pressing for a new investigation into phone hacking, Wood said. Prescott was later determined to be a victim of the News of the World’s phone hacking, according to charges filed in July against Coulson and Brooks.