April Casburn, a senior counterterrorism detective with Scotland Yard,… (Kirsty Wigglesworth / Associated…)
LONDON – A senior Scotland Yard detective was found guilty Thursday of trying to sell confidential information to a tabloid in the first conviction of a police officer in a corruption probe spawned by Britain’s phone-hacking scandal.
A London jury took just a few hours to find Det. Chief Inspector April Casburn, one of the force’s highest-ranking female detectives, guilty of misconduct in public office for leaking details of the phone-hacking investigation and seeking payment for it. The publication to which she made the offer, the News of the World, was the very newspaper under investigation for allegedly tapping into the private voicemails of thousands of people to feed its appetite for scoops.
The tabloid was shut down amid a public uproar in July 2011 after it emerged that reporters had intercepted messages left on the cellphone of a kidnapped 13-year-old girl who was later found killed. The scandal sparked three police investigations, including one into the bribery of public officials by journalists.
Casburn, 53, is the first police officer to be prosecuted as a result of the probe. She faces jail time for her actions, but the judge could hand her a mitigated sentence in view of the fact that Casburn is in the middle of the adoption process of a young child.
Det. Chief Supt. Gordon Briggs said that Casburn, who works in Scotland Yard’s counterterrorism unit but is on suspension, had disgraced the force.
“It is totally unacceptable for a serving police officer to leak confidential information about a live police investigation to journalists for private gain,” Briggs said. “In doing so, they let down the public, and they let down their hardworking, honest colleagues. To act in that way is a gross breach of public trust.”
During the trial, which began Monday, Casburn acknowledged contacting the News of the World in September 2010 to pass on information about the phone-hacking investigation, including the names of two people under suspicion.
But she denied asking for money. Instead, Casburn testified that she was motivated by anger that her superiors were diverting some of the counterterrorism unit’s resources to the phone-hacking investigation, which seemed to her a misplacement of priorities. She said many of her male colleagues saw the investigation as a lark that would allow them to meet celebrities such as actress Sienna Miller, one of the most prominent hacking victims.
Prosecutors agreed that no money changed hands between Casburn and the News of the World. But they pointed to an email written by the reporter who took Casburn’s call, which said that the “senior policewoman” wanted “to sell inside info” about the hacking investigation.
“Not only did she seek to divulge confidential information; she sought to leak details of a case to the very newspaper under investigation,” said Greg McGill, a senior lawyer with the Crown Prosecution Service. “This is a very serious offense.”
Since Scotland Yard, which is also known as the Metropolitan Police Service, launched its three investigations, dozens of people have been arrested on suspicion of hacking into phones and computers and demanding or giving payment for information.
The hacking scandal has also shaken the business empire of media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, whose giant News Corp. owned the News of the World and the Sun. Most of the journalists arrested have been associated with those newspapers, including Andy Coulson, a onetime senior communications aide to Prime Minister David Cameron.
The corruption probe has resulted in the arrest of police officers and other public officials, including an employee with Britain’s Defense Ministry.
“I hope today’s verdict demonstrates our commitment to rooting out that kind of corruption and demonstrates that corruption of this kind will not be tolerated within the Metropolitan Police Service,” Briggs said.