A senior police officer accused of selling information to the News of the World over phone hacking says she was “foolish” to contact the paper but denies having ever discussed payment, a court heard.
Detective Chief Inspector April Casburn went on trial yesterday over a phone call to a journalist on the paper.
She is accused of one count of misconduct in public office for allegedly offering information to the paper in September 2010, while working in counter-terrorism managing the National Terrorist Financial Investigation Unit.
On September 11 2010, Ms Casburn, 53, claims that she told journalist Tim Wood about six people being investigated and spoke of the “difficulty” in proving an offence of illegal interception.
She said she was “foolish” to call the tabloid but denies discussing money with them.
‘I think in some circumstances it’s right to go to the press because they do expose wrongdoing’ – DCI April Casburn
Ms Casburn said she reluctant to assign counter-terrorism officers to the phone hacking investigation in the run-up to the anniversary of 9/11 and Eid. She said: “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.”
During the call, made early on the morning of September 11 2010, she denied asking the paper for money and claims that the main names divulged in the phone call – Andy Coulson, the paper’s former editor and David Cameron’s then spokesman; and the late former reporter Sean Hoare – were already in the public domain.
When 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.”
Appearing in Southwark Crown Court today, she is charged with offering information relating to Operation Varec, which was set up to review its original inquiry into phone hacking allegations.
In a prior statement to the police which was read out at court, she said: “I made a foolish decision to call the News of the World and spoke to a man I now know to be Tim Wood.
“During that conversation I never asked for money but did talk about the waste of public funds and wanted to offer the paper a view on that.”
Ms Casburn said she had been by the side of a busy road when she made the call and that Mr Wood may have “misheard or misunderstood” what she said.
She said she had “no concerns” about what she said during that phone call and reiterated that she had not asked for money.
Southwark Crown Court heard that Ms Casburn was going through “an exceptionally difficult divorce” at the time and was at the beginning the adoption process after two egg donations had failed.
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. “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 officer said her department was overburdened processing work for MI5, MI6, GCHQ, and the Met’s counter terrorism command unit SO15 at the time.
In a prepared statement handed to police in December 2011 she said denied “ever offering police information for money to any person” but said she felt “unable” to answer any further questions due to the passage of time.
Previous investigations into the phone hacking scandal revealed that shortly after the call Mr Wood relayed his version of the conversation to two of the News of the World’s most senior staff. He wrote in an email: “A senior policewoman – no name given – wants to sell information on the phone-hacking inquiry. She says John Yates is using counter-terrorism assets…
“They are looking at six people: [Andy] Coulson, [Sean] Hoare, a woman who she can’t remember the name of, and three others… Pressure to conduct the inquiry is coming from Lord Prescott…”
Ms Casburn, from Hatfield Peverel, Essex, is the first police officer to be charged by any of the three linked criminal inquiries into News International.
The trial continues.