The Attorney General was poised last night to investigate the role of the News of the World in a newspaper "sting" operation after five men were cleared of conspiring to kidnap Victoria Beckham.
The trial collapsed after the court was told that the newspaper had paid the chief prosecution witness £10,000 for his story. Adrian Pasaraneu, 27, Alin Turcu, 18, Luzim Balliu, 30, and two others who cannot be named for legal reasons were cleared at Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court of conspiring to kidnap the wife of David Beckham after the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) declined to offer evidence. The witness, Florim Gashi, had become friendly with the men, who were quoted by the newspaper in November last year allegedly describing a plan to holdMrs Beckham hostage for a ransom of £5m.
A CPS source said: "Our picture of the News of the World informant, a convicted criminal, was re-appraised. We are now of the opinion that he is an unreliable witness after receiving financial gain from the News of the World." Judge Simon Smith said: "I am minded to refer the whole of this matter to the Attorney General to consider the temptations to which money being offered in return for stories, in particular about celebrities, gives rise to."
Last night the newspaper, which was edited by Rebekah Wade when the sting operation took place, said in a statement: "We fully stand by the report published in the newspaper in November last year."
The authorities will want to question the role of Ms Wade, 35, in the affair. Two months after her "scoop", she was promoted by the proprietor, Rupert Murdoch, to editor of The Sun.