A senior reporter at The Sun has avoided jail for handling the stolen mobile phone of Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh to spy on private texts about the Miliband brothers’ leadership battle.
Nick Parker, 53, was convicted along with college student Michael Ankers, who tried to sell the contents of the BlackBerry to the tabloid newspaper in 2010.
The court heard that Parker was so eager for a scoop to rival the MPs expenses scandal that he agreed a holding contract of £10,000 to see the texts but he abandoned the story after failing to find any evidence of “criminality”.
The jury deliberated for nearly 20 hours before reaching unanimous verdicts at the Old Bailey.
They cleared Parker, of Twickenham, south-west London, of the more serious offence of aiding and abetting Surrey Police officer Alan Tierney to commit misconduct in a public office.
Tierney, who has admitted his crime, contacted him in 2009 with a follow-up tip about footballer John Terry’s mother and mother-in-law being cautioned for shoplifting and a story about Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood allegedly assaulting his girlfriend.
Judge Paul Worsley sentenced Parker to three months in jail, suspended for 12 months, for handling stolen goods and ordered him to pay £7,500 costs.
He told the journalist: “You were prepared to behave dishonestly in order to get a story relating to allegations of bribery. You were seeking to get a story for your employers. You told the jury that you had missed out on the MPs expenses scandal story. And I have no doubt when the phone came to you you hoped to find material that might form the basis of a similar dramatic story.
“You over-stepped the line between investigate journalism and breaking the law.”
Ankers, 30, who is currently serving four years in prison for drugs offences, was found guilty of the theft of the mobile phone and was handed a further six months in jail.
During the trial, prosecutor Michael Parroy QC read out Parker’s notes about an initial conversation he had with Ankers on “topics of interest” from some of the texts stored on the mobile.
The first was about a text from an MP in the context of the leadership contest between David and Ed Miliband saying: “I will kill myself if Ed wins”, the court heard.
Others notes referred to “jokes about William Hague having to share a hotel bedroom”, “Ed and Boris” both using politics as a “plaything”, and another about “holding out for bribes for hard cash”.
The last of the five topics was a message stating: “Although the decision is brave and honourable and I guess has been taken after internal consultancy (supporters/voters) but I am very sad, unhappy and upset for the country”, the court heard.
Ankers told the court he found the stolen BlackBerry on the Tube at Tooting Bec, south west London, in October 2010 and decided to contact The Sun before handing it in to police.
He met Parker in a Richmond cafe before showing off the phone at Petersham Hotel where he agreed a £10,000 holding contract if the contents were of use to the tabloid.