Hacking probe was 'a bit of a jolly,' claims counter terror officer in misconduct trial

 

Police officers investigating phone hacking viewed the inquiry as “a bit of a jolly” and were excited about meeting celebrities, a senior detective claimed today.

Detective Chief Inspector April Casburn told Southwark Crown Court that she feared that her colleagues thought the investigation would be "a bit of fun".

She is accused of one count of misconduct in public office for allegedly offering information to the News of the World (NOTW) in September 2010, when she was working in counter-terrorism managing the National Terrorist Financial Investigation Unit.

The 53-year-old told jurors she felt resources meant for fighting terrorism should not be diverted.

She said: "I felt very strongly that we shouldn't be doing hacking. Our function was to prevent terrorist attacks and I was particularly worried that the behaviour of my colleagues was such that they thought it was a bit of a jolly.

"They thought it was all going to be a bit of fun, getting to travel, getting to see famous people.

"I felt sufficiently strongly we should not be diverting resources which are to do with saving people's lives.

"It made me really angry."

At a meeting held the day before she called the NOTW, there was "palpable excitement" about who would get to meet Hollywood actress Sienna Miller, she said.

There was also some uncertainty over the legal position on phone hacking and whether criminal prosecutions could be brought, the court heard.

But Casburn did not feel able to speak out against the plans for the phone-hacking investigation, which had been re-opened by then assistant commissioner John Yates, she told the court.

"John Yates was a very powerful and influential officer and all the people in the meeting more senior than me were powerful and influential officers," she said. "I didn't believe I could make any difference to the decision-making around using counter-terrorist assets for the phone-hacking inquiry."

Casburn admits making the phone call to the NOTW, but denies misconduct, asking for money and offering information that was not already in the public domain.

Asked about going to the press, she said: "I believe that in some circumstances that may be the only option that's open to individuals.

"It's not uncommon for a lot of people to use the press, for politicians to get a story out, to have something released or a wrongdoing to be exposed. I think in some circumstances it's right to go to the press because they do expose wrongdoing and they do expose poor decisions."

She said the counter-terrorism command was "very male-dominated", and likened it to the TV series Life On Mars in the 21st century.

Casburn said she did not know at the time that one of her investigators had been asked to work on the inquiry, called Operation Varec.

But she said there was "talk of lots of victims" and was concerned that the hacking investigation "could mushroom".

Casburn, from Hatfield Peverel, Essex, was also worried about the impending anniversary of the September 11 attacks, that coincided with the Muslim festival Eid in 2010, she said.

Initially, when she was arrested 15 months later, she denied asking for money but did not admit to police that she had called the NOTW, the court heard.

Breaking down in tears during cross-examination, she said she had adopted a child two weeks earlier and was scared that the youngster would get taken away.

She said: "The only thing that I could think about was that they would make an 'every child matters' referral and that social services would remove my child.

"It's really hard when you're that stressed, and you're that scared.

"I couldn't remember the contents of that phone call, I needed to focus my mind and I couldn't."

The trial was adjourned until tomorrow.

PA

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