A former Sun newspaper reporter has become the first person to be charged under Operation Tuleta, Scotland Yard’s investigation into alleged computer hacking and other privacy breaches.
Ben Ashford, 34, has been charged with possessing criminal property and unauthorised access to computer material. He will appear before Westminster Magistrates’ Court on October 15.
Asford is currently working as a freelance journalist, operating from his home in London. He was a staff reporter with the Sun until 2010, and friends said he was “baffled” by the decision and would fight the charges.
It is understood that Ashford was handed a phone by a woman in Manchester in 2009 after she phoned the Sun newsroom in London, claiming to have found the phone and that it contained some interesting text messages.
The phone belonged to a local woman named Emma Murray and sources said Ashford handed in to police and the matter was thought to be closed.
Operation Tuleta began in the wake of the phone hacking scandal and is being run by the Metropolitan Police alongside Operation Elveden, an investigation into inappropriate payments to public officials, and Operation Weeting, the phone hacking inquiry.
So far, 21 people have been arrested as part of Tuleta. Two have been told that no further action will be taken against them.
The offences allegedly committed by Ashford are said to have taken place between October 11 and 16, 2009. They relate to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and Computer Misuse Act 1990.
Allegations associated with computer hacking came in for intense scrutiny earlier this year after it emerged that over 100 companies and individuals had hired private detectives who were suspected of using illegal methods to access information.