Met Police saw hacking inquiry as a 'chance to meet celebrities'

Counter-terrorism detectives set up Operation Varec as a jolly, says officer facing charge

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The Independent Online

Counter-terrorism officers at Scotland Yard saw a new phone-hacking inquiry as a chance to meet celebrities, a senior officer claimed today.

Detective Chief Inspector April Casburn, who is accused of leaking details of a new police inquiry to the newspaper, said senior detectives viewed Operation Varec, set up in September 2010, as “a bit of a jolly” away from the more important job of preventing bomb plots.

Det Ch Insp Casburn said that at a meeting on 10 September 2010 senior officers in the anti-terrorist unit SO15 were looking forward to interviewing the actress Sienna Miller, who at the time was suing the News of the World (NOTW).

She told Southwark Crown Court: “There was a palpable excitement in the meeting over who would get to go and see Sienna Miller. The counter-terrorism command is busy and I felt very strongly that we should not be doing hacking – our function is to prevent terrorist attacks. I was concerned that it was being seen by my colleagues as a bit of a jolly. I think it was all a bit of fun… travel, see famous people, it was that kind of atmosphere.”

At 7am on 11 September 2010, a day after the alleged meeting – which Scotland Yard told the court it could find no trace of – Det Ch Insp Casburn called NOTW and gave a journalist, Tim Wood, information about Operation Varec.

Minutes later Mr Wood relayed the information to colleagues in an email that was later found by the Metropolitan Police’s inquiry into the corruption of public officials, Operation Elveden, leading to Det Ch Insp Casburn’s arrest and charging.

She denies committing misconduct in public life.

Taking the stand on day two of the three-day trial, the officer – who ran Scotland Yard’s National Terrorist Financial Investigation Unit – said she had contacted the NOTW because she was alarmed at the use of “counter-terrorism assets” to investigate the more trivial offence of phone hacking.

Asked why she had not reported her concerns internally within the police, she told the court: “I never felt I had the ear of anyone important enough to take my view into account.”

She added that SO15 was a highly male-dominated and chauvinistic outfit, where senior male officers would play golf and go for coffee breaks together. Referring to the BBC-TV series set in the 1970s, she told the court she had told the department’s two other high-ranking female officers: “This is like Life on Mars in the 21st century.”

She vigorously denied Mr Wood’s assertion in his email that she had asked the tabloid for money, saying she had tens of thousands of pounds in savings and Premium Bonds.

Asked by prosecuting counsel, Mark Bryant-Heron, why she had not made her call to The Guardian or The Independent, which he said were the papers reporting on hacking in depth at the time, she replied that she had chosen the NOTW because it was a Sunday paper and she had been ringing on a Saturday, it had a large and influential readership and its editor had changed since a reporter was jailed in 2007. Asked by her own counsel, Patrick Gibbs, QC, whether it had been “a good idea” to have contacted the tabloid, she replied: “It clearly wasn’t.”

The trial continues.