“This country has long prided itself on the integrity of its public officials and cynical acts of betrayal of that high standard have a profoundly corrosive effect.”
Those were the words of Mr Justice Fulford as he sentenced two people to prison today for misconduct and corrupt payments while in public offices. 40 year old Alan Tierney, who used to be a Police Constable in Surrey, pleaded guilty and was subsequently convicted and sentenced to 10 months in custody for selling information about John Terry’s mother and a shop lifting incident, as well as information about another celebrity, Ronnie Wood; Rolling Stones’ guitarist to News International. Richard Trunkfield was also found guilty of a similar offence and sentenced to 16 months in jail. Trunkfield who used to work as a support officer at Woodhill Prison admitted to selling news about John Venables, one of the 2 boys found guilty of the horrendous murder of the 2 year old James Bulger to the Sun Newspaper. The two men were sentenced separately at the Old Bailey earlier today.
Barely three months ago, Detective Chief Inspector April Casburn, a 53 year old woman had been found guilty of a similar offence of misconduct in public office and had also been sentenced, upon conviction, by Mr Justice Fulford at the Southwark Crown Court. In April Casburn’s case, she had been found guilty of trying to sell information from the phone hacking enquiry to the News of the World. She was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment on the 1st of February 2013. Misconduct in public office is only triable on indictment and in the most serious circumstances, can carry a sentence as high as life imprisonment. Whilst deriving benefits from holding a particular post in public service does not necessarily constitute misconduct, the recipient must be able, if and when called upon to do so, to prove that such benefit or ‘gifts’ were offered and accepted under the most transparent of circumstances.
The level of accountability demanded by law from those in public offices or in the position of trust such as those working in the care sector and anyone working with the vulnerable, is at an all time high. The enactment and subsequent coming into force of the Anti Bribery & Corruption Act (ABC) has brought even more stringent measures to the offer and/or acceptance of ‘gifts’ or other forms of benefits to and from those in public as well as private offices. According to the Court of Appeal, misconduct in office is an offence that can prove very complex and sometimes raises very sensitive issues. Unfortunately however, ignorance is no excuse under the law and the fact that a client was not aware of the consequences of their action or inaction, as it were, may not stand up to much of a defence in court.
Cheesy as it sounds, the old maxim “prevention is better than cure” proves particularly relevant here. Rather than toy with the possibility of jail, if in doubt, ask us!