Ben Ashford, former journalist at Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun newspaper is the first person to be charged under Operation Tuleta, a Metropolitan Police investigation that is being run alongside inquiries into alleged corrupt payments to public officials, computer hacking and other privacy breaches.
Gregor McGill, a senior lawyer at the CPS said,
The CPS has today authorised the Metropolitan Police to charge Ben Ashford with one offence of possession of criminal property and one offence of unauthorised access to computer material.
Mr. Ashford will appear before Westminster Magistrates’ Court on October 15, charged with possessing criminal property between October 11 2009 and October 16 2009, contrary to section 329(1) Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.
The Crown Prosecution Service said that charge relates specifically to
a mobile telephone belonging to Emma Murray knowing or suspecting it to constitute a person's benefit from criminal conduct.
It has been widely reported that the phone came into his possession in 2009 when a woman phoned The Sun newspaper, saying that she had found it and that it contained some interesting text messages.
Ashford, now a freelance journalist, has also been accused of causing
a computer to perform a function with intent to secure unauthorised access to a program or data held in a computer, knowing that such access was unauthorised.
This, the CPS said, was over the same period of time as the other alleged offence and is contrary to section 1(1) of the Computer Misuse Act 1990.
Operation Tuleta is an inquiry into criminal offences that invade individuals’ privacy for journalistic purposes, not already covered by Operation Weeting, which is looking at phone hacking claims, or Operation Elveden, which is investigating allegations of corrupt payments made to public officials.
The combined operations, which have so far cost around £40m, have seen more than 40 people arrested in connection with various forms of alleged media wrongdoing and corruption. Next to trial will be Rebekah Brooks and her successor as editor of News of the World, Andy Coulson, who are both due to appear in court at the end of October.
Liberty bail campaign
Ben Ashford’s charge coincides with a campaign by the human rights group Liberty who are asking for a six-month time limit for police bail. Some of the suspects arrested under the various hacking inquiries are still being kept under investigation without charge almost two years after they were first detained.
The time limit for bail is ordinarily set at a total of 24 hours, though this can be used over multiple separate sessions of questioning and spread over an unlimited amount of time.
The first person to be detained under Tuleta, a 52-year-old man arrested in Milton Keynes in November 2011, is still waiting to hear if he is to be charged or released without further action.
So far there have been a total of 21 arrests made under Operation Tuleta, with only two of those arrested informed that no further action will be taken.
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