April Casburn’s high-flying career in the police ended in disgrace tonight when she was convicted of offering to leak details of the phone hacking inquiry to the News of the World.
The Detective Chief Inspector, one of the country’s few top female counter-terrorism officers, stood impassively in the dock at Southwark Crown Court as she was found guilty of misconduct in public office.
She became the first person for six years to be convicted for a crime arising out of the phone hacking scandal.
The judge, Mr Justice Adrian Fulford, warned Casburn that she faced a jail term, raising the prospect that she will be separated from her newly-adopted three-year-old child.
A brief, early-morning phone call to the News of the World on Saturday 11 September 2010 wrecked her 20 years of unblemished service in the Metropolitan Police.
Casburn, 53, from Chelmsford in Essex, who had joined the armed forces as a teenager and then run pubs with her first husband, with whom she had two children, spent her first seven years with the London force in child protection.
By 2009, she was running the National Terrorist Financial Investigation Unit, a 60-strong team in Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command SO15.
She had grown disillusioned with the male-dominated anti-terrorist command, where she had a strained relationship with her line manager and where, unlike more junior male officers, she had been left without a desk. She was also struggling personally; her second marriage was crumbling.
She told Southwark Crown Court that she became infuriated when she discovered in September 2010 that S015 would be carrying out Operation Varec into fresh allegations in the New York Times that phone hacking had been rife at the News of the World.
She told the jury that her male colleagues had viewed the inquiry as a “bit of a jolly” with travel and the opportunity to meet celebrities such as Sienna Miller.
Five days after the inquiry had been set up, at 7.51am on Saturday 11 September, she called the News of the World while walking to a branch of Tesco in Chelmsford and spoke to a newdesk editor, Tim Wood.
At 8.17am, Mr Wood sent an email to NOTW’s news editor and crime editor, saying that a senior policewoman - who had failed to leave her name - wanted to sell “inside information” on the hacking inquiry.
She disclosed that police wanted to interview six people, naming the paper’s former editor Andy Coulson, then the Prime Minister’s spokesman, and detailed the difficulty her colleagues would have in proving the crime of voicemail interception.
She left her number, saying that anyone calling her back should ask if she was “alright to talk”.
Mr Wood suspected the call was a sting. No story appeared and no payment was made. There the matter might have rested, except that in June 2011 the police began Operation Elveden into the alleged bribery of public officials by journalists.
Scotland Yard found the email in News International’s database, and phone records showed that the number given belonged to the personal mobile phone of one of its senior counter-terrorism officers. Casburn was arrested at her home on 21 December 2011.
Confronted by the email and phone record evidence, she eventually admitted, in May 2012, that she had called the paper, but insisted she had been acting as a whistleblower to draw attention to the waste of counter-terrorism assets and had not asked for money.
But she struggled to give a coherent reason why of all the media outlets in Britain, she had called the News of the World.
Her lawyer, Patrick Gibbs, asked the judge to spare the officer jail on account of her child, but Mr Justice Fulford said a custodial sentence was a real possibility given the jury’s verdict “and the breach of trust that the offence involves.” He adjourned sentencing until the end of this month.
Outside court, Detective Chief Superintendent Gordon Briggs, who is leading the Met’s inquiries into corruption and phone hacking, said: “There must be occasions when putting certain information into the public domain – so called ‘whistle-blowing’ – can be justified. This was not one of them.
“In this case DCI Casburn proactively approached the News of the World - the very newspaper being investigated - for money. She betrayed the service and her colleagues.”