Amid emotional scenes today, former Westminster correspondent of The Sun, Clodagh Hartley, was cleared of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office.
Hartley, and her co-defendant Mara Bukarewicz, both broke down in tears as the foreman announced that the jury of six men and six women had reached a unanimous verdict of Not Guilty after two days of deliberation. The charges related to payments made to civil servant Jonathan Hall for information which included advance details of the 2010 budget. Outside the court Hartley thanked the jury for their verdict and said she now: “just wanted to get on with her life.”
The trial came about, the court heard, after News UK, formally News International, handed over details of internal emails and financial records to officers from Operation Elveden, the Metropolitan Police investigation into newspaper payments to public officials. Two other trials of journalists from The Sun are currently ongoing with others planned for early next year.
During the trial Hartley had told the court about a culture of “bullying” at the Sun and testified that she had a complaint of harassment upheld against a Sun journalist. Now proceedings have ended we can reveal that the member of staff involved was the paper’s political editor Tom Newton-Dunn, who strongly contests the allegations. Hartley also said that other senior staff at the paper were fully aware of her relationship with civil servant Jonathan Hall and advised her to remove his name from the paper’s financial system and arrange for payments to be made via his girlfriend Marta Bukarewicz.
Summing up the case on Monday His Honour Judge Rook told the jury that to find the reporter guilty they would have to be sure, not only that the journalist knew the information the civil servant gave was confidential, but also knew that his actions amounted to misconduct so serious that it would undermine public confidence in the civil service. Hartley’s QC, Alexandra Healey, argued that all of the stories printed by The Sun as a result of Hall’s actions were in the “public interest” and repeatedly compared her actions to those of the Daily Telegraph in revealing the MPs expenses scandal.
The civil servant, HMRC press officer Jonathan Hall, has already pleaded guilty and will be sentenced at a later date.