Scotland Yard is investigating claims that a serving police officer perverted the course of justice by warning journalists against writing about the “political affairs” of a Ukip MEP.
Detective Constable Tony Holden sent an unsolicited email to two reporters from The Sunday Times and The Independent after they contacted Gerard Batten over the London MEP’s alleged links to far-right political organisations and proposed anti-Muslim policies, including banning halal meat.
Mr Holden, who was working on an unrelated fraud case brought by Mr Batten against a former employee, warned the journalists against publishing articles “deemed to be untruthful and concerning to” the Ukip politician.
The officer, a specialist in financial crime, wrote that “it has been bought [sic] to the attention of the Metropolitan Police” that the journalists had “been provided material by an unknown source concerning the political affairs of Mr Gerard Batten MEP”.
He cautioned that any articles linked to Mr Batten’s ex-employee, Jasna Badzak, who at the time was awaiting trial for fraud, “may result in further arrests being made” and requested that the reporters “thoroughly check the sources of the information, prior to contacting either Mr Batten or going to press”. He copied Mr Batten’s private email address into the correspondence.
One of the journalists replied to Mr Holden, saying that he considered the email to be an attempt to warn him off writing about the MEP and a “potential abuse of office”. The journalist also emailed Mr Batten, asking for an explanation. Mr Batten appears to have forwarded the email to Mr Holden, saying: “Dear Tony, very sorry to bother you with this. Please see the exchange of messages below.”
Mr Holden’s extraordinary intervention is one of several instances of alleged police misconduct said to have been committed by four police officers and one ex-officer, all of which are under investigation by the Metropolitan police’s serious misconduct investigation unit.
The claims relate to Ms Badzak, who was convicted of fraud in October last year after a jury found that she had doctored a bank statement and borrowed £3,000 from Mr Batten on the false pretence that she had not been paid by the European parliament. Ms Badzak has since campaigned against her conviction, alleging that police officers in the case acted improperly.
The IPCC, the independent police regulator, said in July that it was “concerned” about her complaints and referred them to Scotland Yard, which is investigating them. The unit will also examine why Ms Badzak was told on two occasions that the officers about whom she complained did not exist.
“The officers you have named as being officers of the Metropolitan Police Service are not officers with the MPS,” a police sergeant wrote. “I have thoroughly interrogated all MPS systems and cannot find any trace of the officers.”
The officer repeated this claim in July last year and it was only disclosed to Ms Badzak in April this year that they were serving Met officers.
Last night a Metropolitan police spokesman said that “it is not possible for us to explain how this mistake was made” and that the officer who made the mistake is “on a career break”.
Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said that he was shocked by Mr Holden’s email. “It shows that there is something seriously amiss within the police when officers feel that they can interfere with the legitimate work of journalists,” he said. “That is the stuff of totalitarian states.”
Ms Badzak has also raised concerns that police officers have used the criminal law in an attempt to prevent her from talking to journalists. In November, she received a formal harassment warning for “providing information . . . of a false nature” to a journalist at The Mail on Sunday. The warning stated that she had provided “false” information concerning Annabelle Fuller, a former press aide to Nigel Farage, which had caused Ms Fuller to be “subjected to numerous phone calls and emails”.
The Times understands that Ms Badzak did not call the journalist — he called her to check information given to him by another source. Ms Fuller is under police investigation for allegedly making false claims of sexual assault.
Louise Mensch, a former Conservative MP, submitted two criminal complaints yesterday via a senior officer in the Metropolitan police, complaining about the alleged conduct of officers in Ms Badzak’s case.
“It is clear to me that substantial police misconduct may have been committed,” Ms Mensch said.
The Tory MP David Davis said that “the public should know whether this was an authorised intervention in the operation of a free press and if so who authorised it [and] what the basis for it was”.
A Met spokeswoman said: “On 25 April, 2014, a woman made a number of complaints against MPS police officers.”
She added: “The matter is currently being investigated by the Directorate of Professional Standards. No police officer has been suspended or placed on restricted duties at this stage.”