News of the World journalist guilty of paying for Bulger stories

Journalist cannot be named for legal reasons

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The Independent Online

A former News of the World journalist has been found guilty of making illegal payments to a prison officer in return for stories about a convicted child-killer.

The journalist, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is the first to be convicted following the launch of Operation Elveden, Scotland Yard’s probe into illegal newspaper practices.

A prison officer, Scott Chapman, 42, and his former partner, Lynn Gaffney, 40, were also convicted on charges of misconduct in a public office. Chapman had made £40,000 from selling tips to various newspapers about James Bulger killer Jon Venables.

The stories about Venables – who, along with Robert Thompson, was convicted of abducting and murdering the little boy in 1993 – related to the period in 2010 when he was sent back to prison following his conviction on child pornography charges. He had been given a new identity and had been released on licence before being jailed again.

During the trial at London’s Central Criminal Court, the court heard that Chapman started selling stories about Venables to various newspapers. Payments were channelled through Gaffney’s bank account.

Newspapers published articles which related to Venables in jail, which included his fascination with child wizard Harry Potter, and Venables’ attempts to lose weight.

The NOTW journalist, whose reports claimed the Prison Service had made life inside for Venables as “comfortable as possible”,  said during the trial that publication of such details had been in the public interest.

 

The prosecution described the NOTW accounts as “drivel” and “tittle tattle”.

Another journalist, Tom Savage from the Daily Star, was cleared of wrongdoing. The court heard that he only knew Chapman as an anonymous source known as “Adam”.

During the trial the court heard that Chapman first went to The Sun, and then broadened his contacts to include other Fleet Street titles.

Judge Charles Wide warned Chapman that he should expect his impending jail term to be counted in years rather than in months. Addressing the NOTW journalist, the judge said he was conscious that the conviction had been based on the purchase of only two stories from Chapman, but warned that the journalist should be “under no  illusion”.

Chapman and Gaffney, both from Corby, Northamptonshire, and the NOTW journalist, all learned of their convictions earlier this week, but an order by the judge prevented publication of the verdicts.

Operation Elveden was set up by the Metropolitan  Police after NOTW publisher News International handed a cache of documents to the special police unit Operation Weeting, during its lengthy inquiry into phone hacking. Its task was to investigate allegations of payments made to police and other public officials.

Detective Chief Superintendent Gordon Briggs, the head of Weeting, said the prison officer had “abused his position of trust” motivated by “financial gain”. He said journalists had exploited that to their own gain “without lawful justification”.

Sentencing will take place at a later date.