A senior London police detective was sentenced to 15 months in prison for trying to sell information about a phone-hacking probe in 2010 to News Corp.’s News of the World tabloid, which was at the center of the investigation.
April Casburn, a 53-year-old counter-terrorism officer with the Metropolitan Police Service, received the jail term today at London’s Old Bailey criminal court. She’s the first person sentenced since police began probing bribery at the now-defunct News of the World and News Corp.’s other U.K. tabloid, the Sun.
“Ms. Casburn, having worked hard for many years, has lost her good character and will undoubtedly lose her job,” Judge Adrian Fulford said at today’s hearing. “As a police officer, prison will be a difficult experience for this defendant.”
The bribery probe, named Operation Elveden, has snared nearly 60 people, including prison workers, health-care employees, members of the military, Sun journalists and Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive officer of News Corp.’s U.K. unit. A 33-year-old officer in the Met’s specialist crime unit was arrested in the investigation today.
News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch closed the News of the World in July 2011 to help quell public anger over its rampant phone hacking. The Sun, the main target of the bribery probe, is still being published. The two affairs have cost the New York-based company at least $315 million in civil settlements with victims, legal fees and other costs.
Casburn, a detective chief inspector, was found guilty of misconduct in public office on Jan. 10. The jury rejected her claim that she hadn’t sought cash from the News of the World and that she’d only called the tabloid out of anger over counter-terrorism resources being redirected to probe phone hacking.
Casburn “betrayed the service and let down her colleagues -- the hard-working honest police officers who make up the vast majority of the MPS,” the police force said today in an e-mailed statement about the sentencing.
Fulford said Casburn’s call to the tabloid on Sept. 11, 2010, “revealed the actual intentions of the investigating team” as police began exploring claims that celebrities’ mobile-phone voice mail had been accessed.
“She discussed who would be undertaking the police work and she rehearsed in detail the current thinking on the available charges, a piece of information which could have been of considerable tactical use to suspects,” Fulford said.
The judge had delayed sentencing in order to receive additional information from a social worker about how Casburn’s three-year-old adopted child might be affected by the sentence. Fulford said today he had considered a sentence of as long as three years, but reduced it, citing the child’s “disastrous start to life” and newfound bond with Casburn as the reason.
The bribery probe was triggered by evidence found through searches of computers during the phone-hacking probe. In Casburn’s case, police uncovered an internal News of the World e-mail describing her unsolicited call.
Casburn, who oversaw officers investigating terror financing, argued she didn’t ask for money and that the person who took the call, former News of the World employee Tim Wood, had misunderstood at the end of his 13-hour night shift.
“Mr. Wood was a reliable, honest and disinterested witness,” Fulford said today. “He took time and trouble during the telephone call to find out exactly what Ms. Casburn was saying, questioning the defendant on the detail of her account in order to make an accurate note for his superiors.”
The News of the World didn’t use the information she offered and didn’t pay her.
Fulford said he didn’t accept the claim Casburn was a whistle-blower who couldn’t deal with her concerns internally because she had difficulties working with male superiors.
“No police officer can take it upon his or herself to vent professional frustration this way,” he said.