Sun journalist Anthony France wins challenge over corrupt payments conviction

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Crime reporter Anthony France - the only journalist to be successfully tried in the wake of a police investigation into payments to public officials - has won an appeal against his conviction.

France, 42, from Watford, Hertfordshire, was accused during his trial at the Old Bailey of cultivating a "corrupt relationship" with a police officer over four years.

In May last year he was given a jail sentence of 18 months, suspended for two years.

France was present at the Court of Appeal in London on Thursday when three judges allowed his challenge against his conviction for aiding and abetting Pc Timothy Edwards to commit misconduct in public office between March 2008 and July 2011.

The Sun reporter was convicted following Operation Elveden which was launched in 2011 in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal to investigate payments by journalists to public officials.

The sentencing judge at the Old Bailey described him as a journalist of "hitherto unblemished character" who was "essentially a decent man of solid integrity".

After the result of his appeal was announced by Lady Justice Hallett, France was congratulated by supporters outside court.

He said: "I am delighted that this serious miscarriage of justice has ended today, allowing me to rebuild my life after 1,379 days of sheer hell."

 

Lady Justice Hallett, who heard the appeal with Mr Justice King and Mr Justice Dove, announced that the conviction would be quashed and said there would not be a re-trial.

The appeal centred on the directions given to the jury at the trial by Judge Timothy Pontius.

In a written ruling, Lady Justice Hallett said: "Taking any one of those criticisms in isolation, we may not have been persuaded the summing-up rendered the conviction unsafe.

"However, we must consider their cumulative effect and read the summing-up as a whole.

"Having done so, we are driven to the conclusion that the jury were not provided with legally adequate directions tailored to the circumstances of the case and that the conviction is unsafe." 

A News UK spokeswoman said after the ruling: "Today Anthony France's conviction has been overturned on appeal and we are delighted that these proceedings are now over for him.

"In the course of the last five years, 19 journalists from The Sun were prosecuted as a result of Operation Elveden and not one has resulted in any conviction being upheld."

Giving the background to the case, Lady Justice Hallett said France was "one of a number of journalists and public officials whose conduct was investigated by police during Operation Elveden".

She said: "He was employed as a junior crime reporter at The Sun newspaper. The Sun openly advertised the fact it would pay money for stories."

Between March 31 2008, and July 1 2011, Edwards, then a serving police officer at Heathrow Airport,  "sold them 38 pieces of information".

She added: "The applicant wrote the articles that followed and submitted the necessary forms to his employers for Edwards to be paid.

"The forms had to be approved first by the news editor and then by an editor or deputy editor. In total, The Sun paid Edwards over £20,000."

Edwards pleaded guilty to misconduct in a public office and was jailed for two years in 2014.

The jury at France's trial heard that Edwards passed on details ranging from airline pilots being breath-tested to a drunken model flying into a rage after ''catching her boyfriend romping with a woman next to him''.

Lady Justice Hallett said: "In our judgment, more detailed instruction as to the factors relevant to the question of the public interest were required on the facts of this case so that the jury could weigh carefully the seriousness of the breach.

"As part and parcel of that direction, the jury should have been directed to consider whether the information passed was so trivial or inconsequential that the public interest could not, in the particular circumstances of the case, be harmed."

France said afterwards: "Having spent more than three years and nine months fighting to clear my name, this is not a time for celebration.

"Nobody has 'won' and the public are less informed."