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Operation Pinetree: CPS charging decisions


In December 2013, the Metropolitan Police Service submitted evidence for charging advice to the CPS in relation to Operation Pinetree, an investigation into an alleged conspiracy to hack phone messages by journalists at the News of the World. Additional evidence in the case was provided in June 2014. The file asked for charging advice on eight suspects; all were formerly employed at the News of the World.

Gregor McGill, a senior lawyer at the Crown Prosecution Service, said: "Following a careful review of the evidence, we have now reached decisions in relation to six of the individuals referred to us under Operation Pinetree. The evidence in relation to two further suspects remains under consideration.

"In relation to these six individuals, we have concluded that there is insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction in connection with allegations relating to the unlawful interception of telecommunications, namely voicemail messages ('phone hacking').

"In addition, two of the six individuals were considered for an offence under the Data Protection Act 1998. In relation to the first individual, it was concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute. In relation to the second individual, it was determined that there was sufficient evidence in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors and so we went on to consider the public interest. A determination that there was sufficient evidence does not mean that the CPS has made any finding concerning guilt or criminal conduct; it is the test set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors and one that is applied in all decisions on whether or not to prosecute.

"The public interest test of the Code requires us to determine, among other factors, the seriousness of the offence, the level of culpability and the harm caused. In accordance with the Code, it was concluded that a prosecution of one individual for an offence under the Data Protection Act would not be in the public interest.

"These decisions have been taken in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors and CPS guidelines on assessing the public interest in cases affecting the media.

"Due to the ongoing review of evidence relating to the two remaining suspects in the case file we are unable to provide further reasoning for our decisions at this stage. We will of course consider what more can be said concerning these decisions in future."


Notes to Editors

  1. The CPS’s function is not to determine criminal charges, but to make good faith, carefully considered assessments about whether it is appropriate to present charges for the criminal court to determine. The CPS assessment of any case is not in any sense a finding of, or implication of, any guilt or criminal conduct. It is not a finding of fact which can only be determined by a court, but rather a judgment on what might be possible to prove to a court, in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors (see Full Code Test below).
  2. This assessment is based on the evidence available arising out of the police investigation and not on the evidence that is likely to be gathered by the defence, and likely to be used to test the prosecution evidence. The Full Code Test has two stages: (i) the evidential stage; followed by (ii) the public interest stage.
    • The Evidential Stage
      • Prosecutors must be satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction against each suspect on each charge. A case which does not pass the evidential stage must not proceed, no matter how serious or sensitive it may be.
      • The finding that there is a realistic prospect of conviction is based on the prosecutor’s objective assessment of the evidence, including the impact of any defence and any other information that the suspect has put forward or on which he or she might rely. It means that an objective, impartial and reasonable jury or bench of magistrates or judge hearing a case alone, properly directed and acting in accordance with the law, is more likely than not to convict the defendant of the charge alleged. This is a different test from the one that the criminal courts themselves must apply. A court may only convict if it is sure that the defendant is guilty.
    • The Public Interest Stage
      • In every case where there is sufficient evidence to justify a prosecution, prosecutors must go on to consider whether a prosecution is required in the public interest.
      • It has never been the rule that a prosecution will automatically take place once the evidential stage is met. A prosecution will usually take place unless the prosecutor is satisfied that there are public interest factors tending against prosecution which outweigh those tending in favour.
    • It is quite possible that one public interest factor alone may outweigh a number of other factors which tend in the opposite direction. Although there may be public interest factors tending against prosecution in a particular case, prosecutors should consider whether nonetheless a prosecution should go ahead and those factors put to the court for consideration when sentence is passed.
  3. For media enquiries call the CPS Press Office on 020 3357 0906; Out of Hours Pager 07699 781 926
  4. The CPS consists of 13 Areas in total, each headed by a Chief Crown Prosecutor (CCP). In addition, there are four national casework divisions: Central Fraud, Welfare Rural & Health, Special Crime & Counter Terrorism and Organised Crime. A 'virtual' 14th Area is CPS Direct which provides charging decisions to all police forces and other investigators across England and Wales - it operates twenty-four hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
  5. At 31 March 2013 we employed a workforce of approximately 6840 staff (full time equivalent), including around 2350 prosecutors and 4110 caseworkers and administrators. Further information can be found on our website:
  6. The CPS, together with ACPO and media representatives, has developed a Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media. This sets out the type of prosecution material that will normally be released, or considered for release, together with the factors we will take into account when considering requests. Read the Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media.