I know it isn’t fashionable to champion former staff members of the . It was the newspaper where phone hacking took place and the resulting scandal was the reason that Rupert Murdoch closed it down.
But not everyone on the paper was guilty of hacking. And, despite my loathing for many of the stories it published and its journalstic agenda, I have always been careful not to tar every NoW journalist with the same brush.
So spare a thought for one of their number, the former crime editor Lucy Panton, who was arrested under the operation [Elveden] launched by the into payments to public officials.
She was arrested in December 2011 - some six months after the NoW’s closure - and spent 19 months on police bail before being charged and subsequently undergoing an Old Bailey trial in which she was found guilty of conspiracy to commit misconduct by paying a prison officer. She appealed, and the appeal court quashed her conviction in March 2015.
Before 17 April this year, when the dropped the idea of subjecting her to a second trial, she spent three months wearing an electronic tag and being subject to a curfew.
And then? And then, as she has revealed , she received a letter on 28 May from the Legal Aid Agency demanding nearly £35,000 and warning of enforcement action and fines if she did not pay.
In fact, Panton was owed more than £20,000 by the agency, which she had paid in legal aid contributions. That has since been repaid, but Panton is keen to repay some £11,000 raised to cover her defence costs, which was collected by the Crime Reporters Association and other Fleet Street colleagues.
Where in all this is Murdoch’s organisation? Given that Panton’s arrest stemmed from information his former British outfit, News International, passed to the police after her first arrest, did the company not feel responsible for her plight?
Ponsford reports that she made numerous pleas for help with her defence costs which were ignored by News International (now News UK) because she was no longer an employee.
When Press Gazette asked why it refused to pay Panton’s legal fees, the magazine received a statement saying:
“We are pleased that court proceedings are now over for Lucy but due to other ongoing legal issues it would not be appropriate to comment further at this time”.
Really Rupert? Is that oh-so-carefully worded corporate/legalistic response the best you can offer to a woman who served you well? Do you not feel even a smidgeon of embarrassment that your company was responsible for her being charged?
Man up Rupert, cover her legal costs. You know you should.