Former police constable and prison officer jailed for selling information to The Sun


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The Independent Online

A former prison officer with access to confidential information on John Venables,  one of the convicted killers of James Bulger, and a former policeman, have been jailed for selling information to The Sun newspaper.

Richard Trunkfield, a support officer at  Woodhill prison, was jailed for 16 months for taking payments from News International in return for confidential information about the treatment and prison conditions of Venables.

Alan Tierney, 40,  a former Surrey Police constable, received  a 10-month sentence for selling details about two cases linked to high-profile individuals. These  included Rolling Stones guitarist, Ronnie Wood, and the former England football captain, John Terry.

Both men had pleaded guilty to charges of misconduct in public office at an earlier hearing.

Mr Justice Fulford, who passed sentence on the men in two separate hearings at the Old Bailey, said: "This country has long prided itself on the integrity of its public officials and cynical acts of betrayal of that high standard have a profoundly corrosive effect."

The court heard that Trunkfield was paid a total of £3,350 by The Sun while he served as an officer at Woodhill.  He provided details on Venables to the Murdoch-owned tabloid on "10 to 15 occasions" the court was told.

The information he provided was the source of numerous Sun front-pages on the Bulger killer.

Trunkfield  later resigned from the prison service.

Tierney, from  Hampshire, admitted two counts of misconduct, dating back to 2009, earlier this month.

He received what the court described as "bribes" in return for information which totalled £1,250.

Mr Justice Fulford's summary said Tierney's offences had been "a disgraceful way for a police officer to act".

Information on Tierney's crimes came from Operation Elveden,  the specialist Scotland Yard inquiry into corrupt payments made by journalists to public officials that has been running alongside the Met's inquiry into phone hacking at News International, Operation Weeting.

The former Surrey PC was paid by The Sun  for information on two celebrity stories. One concerned the mother of Chelsea captain John Terry, after she had been cautioned for shoplifting.

The other related to the  Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood, who was formally cautioned for an alleged assault after an incident with his then Russian girlfriend, Ekaterina Ivanova.

The court was told the Surrey PC had sold the name and address of a witness to the Wood incident. Mr Justice Fulford said this could have led to the witness withdrawing all co-operation with the police if criminal charges had followed.

Tierney's counsel said that since his arrest he had "suffered a collapse of his mental health", had tried to commit suicide and that he had lost his wife, family and reputation.

Bill Emlyn Jones, representing Tierney, told the court that prior to the corruption incidents, his client had been "an effective and well-regarded police officer" who was commended five times during his 11 years as a constable.

However the judge said it was "wholly against the public interest " for those who held  public office  to profit out of the misery or unfortunate circumstances of those they were supposed to be responsible for.

He added that the public expected police to "behave scrupulously, fairly and with complete integrity with any information that comes into its possession" but the former constable's actions could have altered the course of justice.

Trunkfield's defence lawyer described the information that was provided to The Sun as "low risk". He said that throughout the period The Sun had been handed details, Venables had been held in isolation and that Tierney had no direct contact with him.

He described the information provided as "common knowledge" and that The Sun had been looking for confirmation of details already known to the paper.

The court heard that The Sun journalist would ask if Venables had been eating "burgers and chips". When this was confirmed The Sun headline would read "Venables gorging himself on burgers and chips".

In mitigation, Trunkfield's lawyer said that once the prison officer saw the headlines that his information had helped generate, he knew he had "let himself down."

The Sun, the court heard, had "hounded him" from the moment he handed over the first piece of information but that Venables' new identity had never been undermined by what the tabloid published.