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Thursday, 20 July, 2000, 12:50 GMT 13:50 UK
Court clears journalist and detective
The tabloid journalist said the ruling was significant for the press
A tabloid newspaper journalist and a detective have been cleared of corruption charges, after a judge ruled their "working relationship" was entirely proper.

News of the World chief crime reporter Neville Thurlbeck, 38, and Detective Constable Richard Farmer, 53, were acquitted of conspiracy to corrupt after a judge at Luton Crown Court ruled there was no case to answer.

Mr Thurlbeck was accused of paying Det Con Farmer to supply information from confidential police computer records to form the basis of numerous newspaper stories.

The verdict is a powerful reinforcement of the right of journalists and police officers to co-operate in the public interests

News of the World
But Mr Justice McKinnon cleared both men, ruling there was no evidence of any payment being exchanged for confidential information.

Det Con Farmer, who was at the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) on secondment from Hertfordshire Police at the time of the alleged offences, and Mr Thurlbeck had both pleaded not guilty.

'Symbiotic relationship'

After hearing the prosecution evidence, the judge directed the jury to acquit Mr Thurlbeck and Mr Farmer ruling there was no case to answer.

"This was a symbiotic or two-way relationship," said the judge.

"Mr Thurlbeck undoubtedly supplied information to Mr Farmer which was of interest to the police.

"In return for which Mr Farmer provided to Mr Thurlbeck, not confidential or sensitive information, but information principally about criminals' previous convictions which he obtained from the Police National Computer."

Outside court, Mr Thurlbeck said the allegations had been brought "without a shred of evidence", and the court's decision was significant for the future relationship of the press and the police.

He read out a statement from the News of the World which said: "The verdict is a powerful reinforcement of the right of journalists and police officers to co-operate in the public interests in the nation's number one battle - the fight against crime."

The prosecution had alleged the journalist had paid Det Con Farmer to supply information on people whose details were kept on confidential police computer records.

In court, Mr Thurlbeck, who began his career at the Buckinghamshire Advertiser, was also cleared of a second allegation of corruptly offering a police officer payment in return for information.

36 stories

Stephen Kramer QC, prosecuting, told jurors a substantial number of checks Det Con Farmer made on the Police National Computer bore no relation to any investigations on which he was working.

Mr Kramer detailed 36 stories in the News of the World which he said contained information supplied by Det Con Farmer.

These included stories about an unnamed Labour MP with a conviction for committing an obscene act, a sex offender who raped a child shortly after being released from prison, and a man said to be involved with serial killer Rosemary West.

Mr Kramer said police had evidence of numerous calls between the two men, who sometimes referred to each other by the code-name "George".

While presenting no evidence of payment between the two, he said: "There is strong inference that the supply of information would not have taken place without payment."

Both men were cleared on Tuesday, two weeks into their trial, but the case could not be reported until Thursday because of legal restrictions.

'Internal investigation'

After the acquittal, a spokeswoman for Hertfordshire Police said the force would still carry out a full investigation into the case, which had been instigated from an anonymous source.

"Although the officer has been acquitted he is still subject to an internal investigation under the police discipline code of conduct."

Det Con Farmer said outside court: "It has been two-and-a-half years of hell."

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