Triumph for journalists’ rights as Sally Murrer wins her case
Local paper journalist Sally Murrer has won her 19-month fight for freedom, against the threat of being jailed for receiving information from a police officer.
Charges against her of “aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office” were thrown out at Kingston Crown Court in Surrey on 25 November.
Sally Murrer, a single parent of three children, is a reporter on Johnston Press’s Milton Keynes Citizen.
Her office as well as her home were searched by police when she was arrested at her home on Dunstable Downs in May last year. She was strip-searched and held and interrogated for 30 hours.
The use of such a charge against a journalist is unprecedented, according to the NUJ, which backed her from the start. It is a “common law” offence that could have lead, in theory, to indefinite imprisonment.
After the case she thanked the union, and fellow journalists, for their support.
The charges related to information she is alleged to have received from recently retired Detective Sergeant Mark Kearney. Much of the evidence came from 20 hours of recordings police obtained by bugging their phones and Mark Kearney’s car.
But the trial judge ruled all the evidence “inadmissible” because it had been obtained in breach of Sally Murrer’s rights as a journalist under the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights.
She and Mark Kearney are close friends and their conversations were bugged to find out what he was telling her. In fact the three stories over which they were charged were inconsequential, and only one got into print.
Two other men were charged in the case, over further stories allegedly leaked by Mark Kearney.
But the cases were all dropped after virtually all the evidence was ruled out by Judge Richard Southwell QC. There will not be an appeal.
28 November 2008