Anthony France, a crime reporter for The Sun newspaper, has been found guilty of paying an anti-terrorism police officer, PC Timothy Edwards, more than £22,000 for story tips relating to Heathrow airport.
France, who joined The Sun in 2004, cultivated a corrupt relationship with Edwards over four years, the jury at the Old Bailey heard. The judge will sentence France on 29 May.
Released on bail
Before adjourning for sentencing, Judge Timothy Pontius stated that the fact that France was released on bail should not serve as any sort of indication of what the sentence will be. The judge also said he would “keep an open mind” until he heard representations from France’s lawyer.
While working at Heathrow in SO15 counter-terrorism command, Edwards sold 38 stories and tidbits of information to France. These included details of a British Airways engineer caught in heels and a bodice walking a makeshift catwalk and the name of a drunk pilot arrested at the airport.
France was charged under Operation Elveden, a Metropolitan police investigation into alleged corruption between the press and public officials. He is the first journalist to stand trial for paying a public official since the director of public prosecutions announced a root-and-branch review of the controversial operation.
The review, and the decision to ditch nine out of 12 remaining cases, came after the court of appeal quashed the conviction of ex-News of the World crime reporter Lucy Panton and gave fellow NotW reporter Ryan Sabey leave to appeal. They had been the only others to be found guilty following a trial.
In court, France, from Watford, Hertfordshire, testified that he was “given” Edwards as a source and told by a colleague: “I’ve spoken to a lawyer and it’s fine.” He claimed that he had never been advised by anyone at The Sun that speaking to a police officer – or any public official – might be against the law and that he would never have got involved with paying Edwards for stories if he knew it was illegal.
“I would have told him to get lost,” said France. “I’m a man of good character not involved in crime.”
After the verdict, DCS Gordon Briggs, who leads Operation Elveden, said: “France and Edwards were in a long-term corrupt relationship. Edwards was not a whistleblower. He obtained confidential information in the course of his duties and leaked it for financial gain. Corrupt relationships of this kind undermine confidence in the police service and harm the public interest.”
This case highlights the severity of corruption between journalists and public officials, as it not only undermines the public’s trust in the police service, but also harms the public interest.
It is important for individuals to be held accountable for their actions, in order to maintain integrity and transparency in the media and government.