Detective Chief Inspector April Casburn has been sentenced to 15 months imprisonment for misconduct in a public office. As part of an investigation into payments by journalists to officials, Casburn was prosecuted, and convicted by a jury, of offering to sell information to the News of the World.
Unusually, we have the sentencing remarks of Fulford J. They can be viewed here.
The BBC reported that she had called the News of the World, offering to sell information to the paper, after the inquiry into hacking by the tabloid reopened in 2010. Casburn denied asking for money but the evidence of Mr Wood (a News of the World journalist) to the contrary was believed by the jury.
We posted here earlier in the week, explaining the offence of Misconduct in a Public Office and the range of sentences.
Fulford J noted that there were two possible interpretations of the jury’s verdict. In such situation, it falls to the judge to determine which interpretation is the correct one on which to base the sentence. This is commonly referred to as the factual basis for sentence.
He noted that the prosecution’s case was founded wholly on the evidence of Tim Wood, a journalist. Casburn spoke to Mr Wood about the phone hacking inquiry at the News of the World. She suggested she was really angry that a number of senior officers were diverting resources for the purposes of a “jolly”, to use her words.
The Judge said: “She revealed the actual intentions of the investigating team, she discussed who would be undertaking the police work and she rehearsed in detail the current thinking on the available charges, a piece of information which could have been of considerable tactical use to suspects who were questioned. That was a truly dire step for a senior police officer to take.”
She claimed that contacting the NotW was in the public interest, however this was not accepted by Fulford J, who described Casburn’s actions as “a corrupt attempt to make money”. Tim Wood was described by Fulford J as…a reliable, honest and disinterested witness.
In relation to Casburn’s actions, Fulford J said: “any sense of resentment she may have held cannot begin to excuse the actions of a Detective Chief Inspector who went to the very newspaper which was the subject of a sensitive and confidential investigation by other officers, offering to sell details of the progress of the enquiry and the strategy the officers were intending to follow.
In my judgment this offence cannot be described or excused as being wholly or in part an honourable, albeit flawed and inappropriate, expression of indignation and concern on this defendant’s part or an understandable instance of whistle-blowing. It was, instead, a corrupt attempt to make money out of sensitive and potentially very damaging information. If the News of the World had accepted her offer, it is clear in my judgment that that Ms Casburn would have taken money and as a result she posed a really significant threat to the integrity of this important police investigation.
Activity of this kind is deeply damaging to the administration of criminal justice in this country; it corrodes the public’s faith in the police force; and it can lead to the acquittal of, or the failure by the authorities to prosecute, individuals who have committed offences, whether they are serious or otherwise.”
Fulford J noted Casburn’s good character, the fact that she would lose her job and that Casburn and her husband were at an advanced stage of adopting a child. It was noted that the child was vulnerable and had had ‘a disastrous beginning in life’.
However, a custodial sentence was inevitable. The Judge also noted that prison sentences are not easy for former police officers.
She did not have the benefit of a guilty plea and without the complicating factor of the child, she would have received a sentence of 3 years.
It is right that the Judge considered the impact of such a sentence on the child and considering such factors as Casburn’s husband being able to care for the child, he felt that a sentence of 15 months properly reflected Casburn’s offending, whilst balancing the needs and interests of the child. For what this means, see here. In brief, however, it is likely that she will be released in just under 4 months.
We will not say any more about the sentence due to other ongoing cases.