A News of the World reporter is facing jail after becoming the first journalist to be found guilty of paying a corrupt official for stories in the wake of Operation Elveden, the high-profile police investigation into newspapers – and it can only now be reported that a corrupt prison officer was also convicted earlier in the week.
The case revolved around the activities of prison officer Scott Chapman, 42, who made £40,000 from selling tips to various newspapers about James Bulger killer Jon Venables after he was sent back to prison in 2010 for child porn offences.
The NotW journalist, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was convicted on Wednesday of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office in relation to two stories following the trial at the Old Bailey.
Chapman and his ex-partner Lynn Gaffney, 40, were also convicted of misconduct in a public office, it can now be reported.
But co-defendant Daily Star Sunday reporter Tom Savage, who only knew Chapman as the anonymous source Adam, was cleared of wrong-doing.
In a courtroom packed with journalists and supporters, there were cheers and shouts of “yes” as Savage, 37, was found not guilty, followed by stunned silence as the jury foreman read out the verdict on the second reporter.
Chapman and the NotW reporter were given conditional bail until they are sentenced by judge Charles Wide on a date to be fixed.
The judge warned Chapman that he should expect his jail term to be counted in years, rather than months.
He told the NotW reporter he was conscious that the conviction was on the basis of just two of the stories that Chapman sold but he warned the journalist to be “under no illusions”.
To date, despite the conviction of public officers, the NotW journalist is the first to be found guilty of paying corrupt officials since police launched its multimillion-pound investigation into newspapers in 2011.
During the trial, the court heard that Chapman first contacted the Sun in 2010 after Venables was sent back to jail.
He went on to sell stories to a host of other newspapers including the NotW and the Daily Star Sunday, using Gaffney’s bank account to channel payments in exchange for a third cut of his earnings.
The tabloids then published a string of articles about Venables’ life behind bars which ranged from his efforts to lose weight to his love of Harry Potter books.
A security chief from the prison where he worked told the court that Chapman’s leaks had a “catastrophic” effect on the operation of the prison and left Venables feeling “very suspicious” of staff charged with his care.
But under cross-examination, it emerged that she had formed that view from secret talks with Venables in her search for the source.
The fact that she did not file a report on any of the meetings was a “serious breach of duty”, according to the defence.
In his evidence, Chapman said he first contacted the Sun about Venables because he was unhappy about the way he was given special treatment and then turned to other newspapers in an attempt to stop his Sun contact “pestering” him.
He told jurors he would send images of his prison ID card and a wage slip as confirmation to journalists, although there was no evidence he sent it to Savage.
But prosecutor Jonathan Rees QC queried the public interest of stories he described as “drivel” and “tittle tattle”, and asked Chapman: “Is it important that Jon Venables likes Harry Potter?”
In turn, Savage denied knowing the identity of his source, saying he used Chapman’s knowledge of Venables’ new name as a codeword to check his credibility.
He told the court it never occurred to him that he was in fact a serving prison officer but, if he had known, it would not have mattered “in the slightest”.
The NotW journalist also denied knowing who Chapman was or receiving images of his ID card and wage slip, despite an email to a NotW boss which suggested the opposite.
The defendant went on to insist that it was in the public interest that the newspaper exposed Venables’ “comfortable” lifestyle behind bars.
The journalist said: “This was a public interest story we were writing about Jon Venables, who abducted a two-year-old from a shopping centre, tortured and murdered him.
“He had been taken in by the Prison Service, given millions of pounds for a new identity, then repeat-offended and the Prison Service deal with it by making his life as comfortable as possible.”
Chapman, 42, and Gaffney, 40, of Corby, Northamptonshire, denied misconduct in a public office. Savage, 37, from south London, and the NotW reporter denied conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office.
For legal reasons, the convictions on Tuesday could not be reported until today.