By Estelle Shirbon
LONDON, Jan 7 (Reuters) - A senior British counter-terrorism
police officer went on trial on Monday accused of offering to
sell the News of the World newspaper inside information about a
police investigation into alleged phone-hacking by some of its
The case of April Casburn is the first to come to criminal
trial as a result of police investigations into wrongdoing at
the Sunday tabloid, which was shut down by its owner Rupert
Murdoch in July 2011.
The hacking scandal has caused upheavals at Murdoch's media
empire and has embarrassed London's police and political
establishment by revealing their close ties with journalists.
Casburn, 53, has pleaded not guilty to one charge of
misconduct in public office. Her trial at London's Southwark
Crown Court is expected to last three or four days.
The court heard Casburn had phoned the paper and disclosed
that six people were being investigated including Andy Coulson,
a former News of the World editor who was by then Prime Minister
David Cameron's media chief.
"She sought to undermine a highly sensitive and high-profile
investigation at the point of its launch," prosecutor Mark
Bryant-Heron told the jury, opening the case.
"It was a gross breach of the trust that the public places
in a police officer not to disclose information on a current
investigation in an unauthorised way, or to offer to do so in
the future for payment," he said.
Casburn made the call to the News of the World newsdesk
early in the morning on Sept. 11, 2010, a Saturday.
At the time, the hacking scandal was revving up following a
New York Times article alleging that the problem had been
widespread at the News of the World and not confined to one
convicted "rogue reporter", as the newspaper had previously
The police had come under pressure for shelving a much
earlier investigation into wrongdoing at the newspaper and had
announced in the previous days that they were considering
re-opening their investigations.
Casburn, who has the rank of detective chief inspector, was
at that time head of a unit specialising in financial
investigations related to counter-terrorism work.
She was not directly involved in the phone-hacking team that
was being put together that week, but one of her specialist
financial investigators had been drafted in.
According to former News of the World staffer Tim Wood, who
took her phone call that Saturday morning, Casburn complained
about the fact that "counter-terrorism assets" were being used
for the hacking probe.
Wood said she also disclosed that six people were being
investigated including Coulson, who is now facing criminal
charges in connection with the phone-hacking scandal.
Casburn accepts that she made the call but disputes Wood's
account of what she said. She says she did not ask for payment
and did not disclose anything that had not been widely reported
in the press in previous days.
There is no recording of the call, but Wood wrote an email
summarising its content to the News of the World's news editor
and senior crime correspondent about a quarter of an hour after
In that email, the first exhibit in the case, Wood wrote
that a person claiming to be a senior policewoman wanted to
"sell inside info" about the investigation into phone-hacking.
Called to the witness box, Wood said he could no longer
remember some details of the call but was confident that his
email had been accurate, including on the issue of whether
Casburn asked for money.
"I wouldn't have put that if she hadn't asked, or given an
indication," he told the court.
The News of the World did not publish any article based on
the information given by Casburn during the call, nor did it
make any payment to her.
Casburn sat quietly in the glass dock at the back of the
courtroom during Monday's hearing, wearing glasses, a dark
jacket and skirt and black high-heel shoes. She will give
evidence later in the trial.