LONDON (Reuters) - UK prosecutors investigating a phone-hacking scandal at a Rupert Murdoch tabloid have decided not to charge a journalist from the Guardian newspaper for illegally obtaining information from the police to break the story.
The hacking scandal has revealed collusion between Britain’s press, politicians and police, with many critics citing those close ties as the reason the illegal practices went undetected for so long.
The Guardian’s Amelia Hill, who helped reveal details of alleged widespread criminality at Murdoch’s News of the World title, had been questioned by police over whether she received confidential information from a detective.
Police had also previously attempted to force the Guardian to reveal its sources on the phone-hacking scandal, sparking a furious row about press freedom in Britain.
Alison Levitt, principal legal adviser to the Director of Public Prosecutions, said there was enough evidence to prove that a police officer passed information to Hill which resulted in articles detailing who had been arrested in the hacking scandal.
But she said there was not a realistic prospect of securing a conviction for either Hill or the officer. She advised that disciplinary proceedings be brought against the officer.
“In the circumstances, I have decided that in her case, the public interest outweighs the overall criminality alleged,” Levitt said in a televised statement on the charges of alleged offences of misconduct in public office and breaches of the data protection act.
The Guardian said it welcomed the prosecutor’s “sensible decision to abandon this worrying attempt to criminalize legitimate contact between journalists and confidential sources”.
Two weeks ago Murdoch confidante Rebekah Brooks, a former News of the World editor and chief executive of News International, was charged with interfering with the police investigation.
The charges were the first to be brought since police launched a fresh probe in January 2011 into allegations that journalists at the Sunday tabloid routinely hacked into the voicemail of celebrities, politicians and victims of crime.
Some 50 people have since been arrested by detectives who are also investigating whether staff on the paper hacked into computers and paid public officials such as the police for tips to get exclusive stories.
A 37-year-old woman was arrested last Friday on suspicion of bribery and corruption offences and a source familiar with the situation identified her as Whitehall editor of Murdoch’s daily Sun tabloid, Clodagh Hartley, who reports on political matters.
A 42-year-old woman was arrested on Monday on suspicion of money laundering offences. She was held by the officers investigating the hacking of voicemail messages.
Reporting by Michael Holden and Kate Holton; Editing by Louise Ireland