Journalist cleared in Huntley photo case

The case against a News of the World reporter who took covert pictures of the Soham murderer Ian Huntley in his cell was dismissed yesterday after his barrister argued that prison regulations were absurd.

The case against a News of the World reporter who took covert pictures of the Soham murderer Ian Huntley in his cell was dismissed yesterday after his barrister argued that prison regulations were absurd.

David McGee, who used bogus references and a false address, none of which were checked, to secure a job at Woodhill prison in Milton Keynes, where Huntley was held before his trial, faced two charges under the 1952 Prisons Act, relating to rules drawn up in 1999 prohibiting unauthorised items in jails. He smuggled in a digital camera concealed inside a personal organiser.

News of the World published the photographs last June, with details of the lack of security at the prison, earning the accolade of best front page of the year at the British Press Awards.

A district judge yesterday dismissed the case against Mr McGee after his lawyer, Andrew Nicol QC, argued that the rule that prohibited any unauthorised items could be interpreted to stop people wearing underpants if they had not received prior permission.

District Judge Terence English said: "To literally construe the rule as it currently stands does produce absurdities. It would catch anybody who goes into a prison and happens to have a packet of cigarettes in their pocket."

Andy Coulson, editor of News of the World, said: "I was astonished by the ease with which we managed to get the photographs and I was even more astonished when we got prosecuted. Dave McGee spent several months on an investigation that had a clear public interest. For him to find himself standing in the dock at Milton Keynes was ridiculous. Had we lost, it would have been bad news for all those involved in investigative journalism.

"As even the Home Secretary acknowledged, our actions had plainly served the public interest. In his words, the story exposed weaknesses and enabled the Prison Service to improve its recruitment procedures to protect the public better. By contrast, the prosecution of David McGee has served no public interest whatsoever."

The judge threw out the charges on the second day of Mr McGee's trial at Milton Keynes magistrates' court. Mr McGee's legal team had planned to present arguments using the Human Rights Act, that a conviction would have infringed the reporter's freedom of expression. The judge said he was "sorry in a way" that stage had not been reached.

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