The Sun journalist Anthony France has successfully overturned his conviction over payments to public officials. He was the only Sun journalist convicted during the £30 million, five-year investigation, but yesterday’s ruling by the Court of Appeal means he has now been cleared of all charges. The Crown Prosecution Service declined to seek a retrial, leaving France, 42, to be formally declared not guilty and ending his near four-year ordeal.
The three senior judges who presided over the appeal took just 27 seconds to quash the jury’s “unsafe” verdict against the crime reporter.
France was found guilty in 2015 of aiding misconduct in a public office after being charged under the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Elveden probe into payments for stories. This probe was launched in the wake of the phone hacking scandal that had rocked the newspaper industry.
Cleared from previous conviction
However, yesterday’s ruling means that all 21 Sun journalists caught up in the investigation have now been cleared, bringing an end to what author and freedom of speech campaigner Mick Hume described as “the biggest witch-hunt against journalists in a free society in modern times”.
The convictions were met with criticism from many in the media and legal professions, who argued that the police and prosecutors had treated journalists like members of a terror cell.
Outgoing Metropolitan Police chief Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe and Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders were among those criticised for their handling of the case. Some journalists were arrested in dawn raids on their family homes, a move that was seen as heavy-handed and unjustified.
Anthony France, known affectionately as “French Tony”, expressed his relief at the outcome of the appeal. He said that he was looking forward to rebuilding his life after “1,379 days of sheer hell”. He added that he was grateful for the support of his family, friends, and colleagues, who had stood by him throughout the investigation and trial.
Media lawyer David Allen Green, of Preiskel & Co, commented on the outcome of the case, saying:
“The prosecutions never had any sound legal basis. That all journalists charged are now acquitted is no surprise.”
He added that the police and prosecutors had failed to appreciate the important role that journalists play in a democratic society and the need to protect their freedom of speech.
The outcome of the case raises important questions about the balance between the rights of journalists and the rights of public officials to protection from corruption. It is a delicate balance, and one that must be carefully considered in any future investigations of this nature.
Victory for journalists
The successful appeal of Anthony France marks a significant victory for journalists and freedom of speech campaigners.
It serves as a reminder of the importance of protecting journalists and their right to investigate and report on matters of public interest, free from the threat of prosecution and persecution.
The case also raises important questions about the role of the police and prosecutors in these types of investigations and the need to ensure that they are conducted in a fair and impartial manner, with due regard for the rights of all parties involved.