Journalists Chris Pharo and Jamie Pyatt cleared over 'cash-for-stories'


The last Sun journalists to be prosecuted under the controversial multi-million pound Operation Elveden probe into cash for stories have been cleared.

Following a retrial at the Old Bailey, news editor Chris Pharo, 46, and district reporter Jamie Pyatt, 52, were found not guilty of aiding and abetting a Surrey police officer to commit misconduct in a public office between 2002 and 2011.

The jury was not told the officer at the heart of the case, Simon Quinn, of Horsham, West Sussex, had pleaded guilty to the offence and been jailed for 18 months earlier this year.

Today's verdicts bring to a close a string of trials against tabloid journalists, the majority of whom worked for The Sun or the now defunct News Of The World.

The jury deliberated for nearly 12 hours. The verdict was greeted by cheers from supporters and colleagues.

Mr Pyatt's lawyer Nigel Rumfitt QC told the court there had been a "monumental error of judgment in pursuing the case".

The confidential dealings of the defendants with public officials came to light in the wake of News International's decision to hand over emails to police after it became embroiled in the 2011 phone hacking scandal.

Out of the 29 cases against journalists, only Sun crime reporter Anthony France has been successfully convicted by a jury.

By contrast, some 26 public officials have been convicted following the £20 million Metropolitan Police investigation into newspapers' activities.

The NI paper trail showed Quinn, referred to in court as 2044, had received some £10,000 for tips on high-profile criminal investigations, including the murder of schoolgirl Milly Dowler, "trophy rapist" Tony Imiela and quadruple killer Daniel Gonzalez.

But Pharo, from London and Pyatt, of Windsor, denied actively encouraging the officer to breach his professional duty.

Pyatt insisted that the information he received was all in the "public interest" and there was "nothing in there so confidential and secret the public don't have a right to read it".

The reporter said he was "given" the police officer as a contact by the Sun news desk and everything he did was "sanctioned" by the newspaper.

Pharo told jurors his only involvement was valuing some of Pyatt's stories and passing the reporter's requests for cash payments to his Surrey police source up the editorial chain for authorisation.

He complained that his former boss Rebekah Brooks was "back in her job" as chief executive while he was answering questions about the affair in court.

After Mrs Brooks became editor in 2003, and Andy Coulson took over the NotW, Pharo and his colleagues came under increased pressure to produce exclusives as rivalry between the sister titles intensified, he said.

He revealed to jurors that Mrs Brooks even had a punch bag in her office to "relieve tension", she would "explode" in editorial meetings and could "sulk for days" over missed stories.

Recalling one incident, he said: "There was a story, an exclusive, they had which we now know came from phone hacking. This was the David Blunkett story. He was having an affair with a married woman.

"That information was hacked from Rebekah's own phone from the NotW. He was leaving messages on her own voicemail asking her how to deal with the situation. It's a matter of public record the NotW was hacking her phone.

"The following morning, at 11am we all received a text message and it said something along the lines of 'yet again I have to pick up this morning's NotW and it contains another agenda setting story'.

"If you f****** c***s are not capable of matching them, I will sack the lot of you and replace you with them."

Mrs Brooks was cleared of all wrongdoing following a trial last year which also saw Coulson - her former on-off lover - jailed for the wide-ranging phone hacking plot.

Pharo and Pyatt became the last journalists to stand trial for paying public officials after a review by the Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders in April.

Mrs Saunders dropped nine out of 12 outstanding cases after former NotW crime reporter Lucy Panton successfully appealed her conviction.

Outside court, the two men embraced as they told of their four-year long Elveden "nightmare" and questioned why £30 million of taxpayers' money had been spent on prosecuting people for "doing their job".

Mr Pharo told reporters: "It's the end of a four-year long nightmare for Jamie and I but it's extended way beyond just us.

"It's damaged our families, our friends and the true human cost to everybody caught up in Operation Elveden is incalculable.

"I want to ask one simple question: how could anyone imagine spending more than £30 million over four years prosecuting journalists for doing their job was remotely in the public interest?"

Mr Pharo thanked his friends and family for their support, in particular his journalist wife Jen, who has attended court every day of the trial.

Mr Pyatt said: "It's four years of my life taken away. It's been a nightmare.

"The head has finally been chopped off the Elveden dragon. It's gone. It should never have been there in the first place. It's disgraceful."

He said that nothing could prepare him as a journalist for the moment if was brought in by police and finger-printed for "doing your job".

He added: "I can live again, hopefully, thank God."

On the fact only his colleague France had been found guilty by a jury, he said: "I think if you go through enough journalists, unfortunately it is the law of averages you will get a wrong jury.

"I wish the Court of Appeal judges see sense that Anthony cannot be responsible for the payment policy of a global media giant. He is an innocent man and deserves to have his good name back."

The journalist questioned why 80 Elveden police officers had been taken off the streets to investigate journalists and said Director of Public Prosecutions Ms Saunders should "consider her position" over the decision to press ahead with the retrial.

He added: "I would like to thank my wife who has stood by me every step of the way. My boys have been brilliant. I just can't wait to get all three of them to the pub and get really pissed."

The Crown Prosecution Service defended the decision to pursue the two journalists, saying: "It is right that a jury, rather than the CPS, decides whether a defendant is guilty or not.

"The CPS is duty-bound to prosecute cases which provide a realistic prospect of conviction and are in the public interest. This test is significantly different to that of a jury, which must only convict if they are assured of guilt beyond all reasonable doubt. The case was allowed by the judge to progress to a full trial and we respect the verdict of the jury today.

"This case in particular involved allegations of multiple payments to a corrupt public official in areas where the public should generally expect confidentiality."