Page last updated at 12:44 GMT, Friday, 28 November 2008

'They said I would go to jail for life'

By Chris Summers
BBC News

A former police officer, his son and two journalists have been cleared of charges in connection with leaking confidential information to the media. One of the journalists, Sally Murrer, recounts her ordeal.

Sally Murrer has been a local journalist for 33 years, and for the past 20 she has juggled her work with being a parent.

Sally Murrer at her desk at the Milton Keynes Citizen
I was told five times that I would go to prison for life
Sally Murrer

A single mother, with three children - one of whom is autistic - she works part-time on the Milton Keynes Citizen, a bi-weekly newspaper.

In May 2007 her cosy, little world suddenly imploded when she received a visit from officers working on Operation Plaid.

"I was arrested, strip-searched and held in custody for 30 hours and because I had just moved and didn't have a telephone at the house, I couldn't contact my children or tell them what was going on," she recalls.

Interrogated

"I was told five times that I would go to prison for life," she says.

Ms Murrer was interrogated about her relationship with Det Sgt Mark Kearney, a Thames Valley police officer who was only five weeks away from retirement at the time and working as a police liaison officer at Woodhill prison.

Mr Kearney was her former lover and they remain close friends.

But the detectives who questioned her were convinced he had been leaking confidential information to her that she had used as a journalist.

She remains staggered by the police's over-reaction to what is a common occurrence on local papers across the country - police officers and journalists gossiping and sharing information.

Jeremy Dear
The NUJ pays tribute to Sally for her bravery and resilience in standing up for her principles throughout the case
National Union of Journalists general secretary Jeremy Dear

Ms Murrer told BBC News: "Over the years I have done hundreds of stories based on information provided by police officers, but that is no different from any local journalists and none of these stories were groundbreaking."

Mr Kearney was later charged with misconduct in public office, an offence that does indeed carry a life sentence.

Ms Murrer, Mr Kearney's soldier son Harry, and a former Hertfordshire police officer, Derek Webb, were all charged with aiding and abetting misconduct in public office.

But Ms Murrer, who lives in Kensworth, Bedfordshire, pointed out that in not one of the alleged leaks, only some of which she was privy to, was any information ever published.

These were the alleged leaks:

• Details about the discovery of a hydroponic cannabis factory at the home of Douglas Belcher, who was murdered in Bletchley, near Milton Keynes, in April 2007.

• Information about former Milton Keynes Dons footballer Izale McLeod being arrested at a party at a hotel in the town. Mr McLeod was never charged in relation to an alleged fight at the party

• Details about an unnamed 15-year-old who had been freed from prison despite telling officials he was going to become a suicide bomber

• Details about a convicted killer who walked out of an open prison in the 1980s

• An internal police memo in which police officers were offered overtime for tracking terrorists

• Information about letter bomber Miles Cooper being transferred to Woodhill prison

• Notes about prison inmates working at a Citizen's Advice Bureau in Oxford

Earlier this year the saga took a twist when it was revealed in Mr Kearney's statement that he had been pressurised by the Metropolitan Police to bug Labour MP Sadiq Khan while he met a constituent, Babar Ahmad, who was being held in the prison pending extradition to the US.

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Journalist tells of 'sheer hell'

That led to a huge row about the bugging of MPs, but was unrelated to Ms Murrer's case, which eventually turned on Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which protects the journalists' right to protect their sources.

This week the judge hearing the case, Judge Richard Southwell, ruled that Thames Valley Police had breached the journalists' Article 10 rights and that effectively ended the prosecution.

Welcoming the judge's ruling, the general secretary of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), Jeremy Dear, said: "Let's be clear, this was an attempt to make a criminal out of a journalist for receiving information that the state didn't want to get out.

"It was a misguided prosecution that sought to punish Sally for simply doing her job.

"This thoughtless action has put Sally under intolerable pressures.

"I'm sure she will be immensely relieved by the decision, though she'll never be able to win back the past year of her life, throughout which she has been forced live under a cloud of uncertainty and stress."

"The NUJ pays tribute to Sally for her bravery and resilience in standing up for her principles throughout the case."



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