Corrupt police officers face unprecedented jail terms if the extent of their alleged payment by the News of the World is proven, one of Britain’s top lawyers believes.
Following claims that officers received up to £30,000 (€33,400) for information, Michael Mansfield QC said sentences would dwarf terms served by other officers convicted of similar offences.
Emma Smiter, 26, a former police community support officer based in Hertfordshire in England, is serving 12 months behind bars after being convicted earlier this year of making illegal tip-offs to the press.
But officers caught up in the News of the World scandal could face sentences of more than six years, Mr Mansfield said.
Legal experts said they are likely to face charges of misconduct in a public office.
The lawyer, who represented Mohamed al Fayed at the inquest into the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, said: “I have seen similar incidents attract four, five or even six years but this case is sufficiently serious that it could be even longer. It is unprecedented in its scope. We are talking about thousands of pounds changing hands.”
Bribes totalling six figures were being made to officers in “sensitive” positions in return for confidential information, it has been reported.
The extent of corruption involving Scotland Yard and the paper is among the most damaging revelations so far, said Mr Mansfield, who has been contacted by detectives amid fears he is one of more than 4,000 hacking victims.
“If the further information is proved to be correct that police took money, then an investigation by the force is not enough,” Mr Mansfield added. “This cannot be a police inquiry, it has got to be independent.”
He is the latest in a string of public figures to call for the investigation to be taken out of Scotland Yard’s hands.
Labour MP Chris Bryant, who secured yesterday’s parliamentary debate into the scandal, called for the police inquiry to be handled by another force while former Scotland Yard deputy assistant commissioner Brian Paddick said there should be a judge-led inquiry so witnesses could be compelled to give evidence on oath.
When asked whether he was confident that a police investigation into police activities would uncover the facts, Mr Paddick painted a picture of “clandestine” meetings that took place between officers and journalists.
“Yesterday I met a journalist who said he was paying sometimes £20,000 to £30,000 to police officers for information,” he told BBC News.
“All of this is done in a very clandestine way. You know the stories about a drive-through fast food restaurant near the News International headquarters - that’s where police officers used to go to collect envelopes. It was all done very discreetly. I personally never came across it during my career.”