UK

News Of The World Reporter Lucy Panton Describes 'Hellish Ordeal' After Acquittal

23/04/2015 14:11 BST | Updated 23/04/2015 14:59 BST

A former News of the World reporter has spoken of her "hellish four year ordeal" of being pursued by police and prosecutors in the wake of the tabloid's closure.

The former crime reporter and mother-of-two Lucy Panton, 40, described having her two young children, including her six-month-old son, turfed out of their beds when police raided her home in 2011.

lucy panton

Lucy Panton

She was the first journalist to be found guilty of paying a public official for stories following an Old Bailey trial last year.

But after the Court of Appeal quashed her conviction, the Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders conducted a root and branch review, leading to the decision to scrap the up-coming trials of nine out of 12 journalists - including Panton's second trial - for obtaining information from public officials, part of the controversial Operation Elveden.

On Thursday, Panton and Sun reporter Vince Soodin, 40, sat in court to hear judge Charles Wide formally acquit them.

Speaking outside the Old Bailey, Panton thanked her family, friends and legal team "whose unwavering support has got me through this hellish four year ordeal".

Describing her ordeal, she said: "I was on maternity leave with my six-week-old son when the NoTW closed in July 2011. At 6am on December 15 later that year, nine police officers raided my home and turfed my then six-month-old son out of his cot along with his five-year-old sister from her bed.

"I was jobless, isolated and unable to pay my legal fees. After 19 months on bail and four intrusive police interviews I was finally charged.

"As the only journalist arrested by Operation Elveden who was not having their legal bills paid by a media organisation I was left to fend for myself.

"So I cannot describe the overwhelming relief felt by me and my family when Fleet Street and beyond came to my aid. In just three days enough money was raised to pay the massive outstanding legal bills I was facing."

She added: "The victory is bitter sweet as three of my colleagues are still awaiting trials. We cannot truly call this over until the witch hunt against journalists and those who have tested authority by talking to journalists are freed from persecution. I hope they get their justice sooner rather than later."

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Panton thanked the Crime Reporters Association, readers of media trade paper Press Gazette and the wider journalist community who in her "darkest hour" set up a fighting fund to help pay legal fees.

Panton and Soodin, 40 sat side by side in the well of the court despite Judge Wide repeatedly saying they need not have attended.

During the short hearing, they were both formally found not guilty of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public offence.

Panton, who had faced two separate trials over accusations she paid prison officers for stories, could not be identified before prosecutors announced the decision to drop charges against her.

vince soodin

Vince Soodin, pictured during his trial

Soodin had been due for a retrial over accusations he paid a police officer for a tip about a child being attacked by a fox.

As Judge Wide prepared to leave, Soodin attempted to address him saying "My lord, my lord...", only for the judge to sweep out of court.

Soodin said: "I was a bit annoyed about that. I thought I would have the opportunity to express my anger at the conduct of the CPS and the Metropolitan Police over the last three years.

"I feel (Met Commissioner) Bernard Hogan-Howe, (director of public prosecutions) Alison Saunders and (her predecessor) Keir Starmer should hang their heads in shame.

"They have dragged numerous journalists through the courts and caused heartache for their loved ones. They claim this was not an attack on the free press - it was.

"I'm just glad that the Lord Chief Justice brought some sanity to these prosecutions after Lucy Panton's appeal.

"Lucy Panton should be very proud of herself for challenging this witch hunt against the tabloid press."

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