Page last updated at 09:15 GMT, Thursday, 18 December 2008

Leak probe case 'cost 205,000'

by Nic Rigby
BBC News, Norwich

Mark Kearney and Sally Murrer
Mark Kearney and Sally Murrer were both cleared in court

A police inquiry into the leaking of information, which ended with a judge clearing a Milton Keynes journalist, cost 205,000 it has been revealed.

Newspaper journalist Sally Murrer was cleared at Kingston Crown Court last month of aiding a former police officer to leak information.

The judge said the journalist's right to protect sources had been infringed.

The cost of the inquiry was released following a Freedom of Information Act request by the BBC News Website.

In the case, Det Sgt Mark Kearney, who was involved in the unrelated bugging of an MP's prison visit earlier this year, was cleared of misconduct in public office.

His son Harry and journalists Sally Murrer and Derek Webb were cleared of aiding and abetting misconduct.

Mr Justice Southwell said the journalists were both entitled, under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, to protect their sources.

Mr Kearney's son Harry, a serving soldier, denied the charge
Mr Kearney's son Harry, a serving soldier, denied the charge

Thames Valley Police had flouted the convention by raiding Mr Webb's premises and authorising the bugging of Mr Kearney's car to discover if he was the source of the journalists' information, the court heard.

Mr Justice Southwell said: "The protection of journalists' sources is a cornerstone of the freedom of the press... which is so important for a healthy and democratic society."

Mother-of-three Ms Murrer, who works part-time on the Milton Keynes Citizen, was arrested in May 2007, taken to a police station and strip-searched.

Considering the number of police involved in the arrests and the bugging operation, she believes the 205,000 is an under-estimate.

This week Ms Murrer, who lives in Kensworth, Bedfordshire, collected some of her possessions which had been seized by police.

She said officers had gone through all her text messages on her mobile phone to try to find any information.

'Explanation needed'

"They even downloaded my dictionary of most-used words," she added.

Det Sgt Kearney added: "I think the taxpayers of Thames Valley are entitled to an explanation on how the money was spent."

Thames Valley Police said the judge had ruled any disclosure to journalists had to be very serious, such as threatening national security, for a prosecution.

In a statement it said: "It is noted that during the legal arguments the judge commented that the methods used to obtain the evidence were lawfully authorised by domestic law and that the actions of the police were proportionate.

"We can also confirm that the methods were independently scrutinised as part of an annual inspection."

It added: "The leaking of sensitive information is a serious matter which can jeopardise police investigations."

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