British police drop bid to reveal Guardian's hacking sources

20th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

London's Metropolitan Police Service on Tuesday said it had dropped an application to force the Guardian newspaper to disclose the sources for its reports on the News International phone-hacking affair.

Scotland Yard announced Friday it had tried to obtain a court order under the Official Secrets Act to identify "evidence of potential offences resulting from unauthorised leaking of information".

However, the service withdrew the application on Tuesday following a meeting with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the country's public prosecutor.

"The MPS has taken further legal advice this afternoon and as a result has decided not to pursue, at this time, the application for production orders," a police spokesman said.

"We have agreed with the CPS that we will work jointly with them in considering the next steps."

The Guardian was at the forefront in uncovering the scale of phone hacking at the now closed News International publication the News of the World, owned by Rupert Murdoch.

The Met's decision to pursue the paper through the courts raised fears of a crackdown on investigative journalism.

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger praised the decision to drop the "sinister" application.

"We greatly welcome the Met's decision to withdraw this ill-judged order," he said Tuesday.

"Threatening reporters with the Official Secrets Act was a sinister new device to get round the protection of journalists' confidential sources.

"We would have fought this assault on public interest journalism all the way. We're happy that good sense has prevailed," he added.

The Met applied for the orders as part of Operation Weeting, its investigation into the hacking scandal.

Police thought the secrets act could have been breached in July when the newspaper revealed that the voicemail of a teenage murder victim had been hacked into. The story led to a public outcry and News of the World closed shortly afterwards.

Scotland Yard said the investigation into the alleged leaks by police staff to the press was still ongoing and was concerned with "establishing whether a police officer has leaked information, and gathering any evidence that proves or disproves that".

"Despite recent media reports, there was no intention to target journalists or disregard journalists' obligations to protect their sources," added the police spokesman.

"It is not acceptable for police officers to leak information about any investigation, let alone one as sensitive and high profile as Operation Weeting."

Scotland Yard maintained that the application had been made under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act rather than the Official Secrets Act.

© 2011 AFP

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