Devon and Cornwall Police officers disciplined in the wake of a corruption investigation into the leaking of confidential information to private detectives were let off with a "slap on the wrist", according to an MP.
Eleven police officers, five support staff, prison guards and benefits agency employees were among the suspects identified in a two-year police inquiry into illegal data checks.
Operation Reproof uncovered an alleged web of leaked information, from Devon and Cornwall officers, among others, to a network of private investigators.
It would lead to two further national investigations into the activities of private investigators selling information to members of the Press – a relationship being examined at the Leveson inquiry after the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.
Devon and Cornwall's operation resulted in six men – two serving police officers, two former officers and two private investigators – being charged in 2004, although the case collapsed in 2006.
The Western Morning News can now reveal that five police officers later faced internal disciplinary proceedings – with a written warning being the stiffest punishment meted out, despite evidence that information had been leaked from the police national computer (PNC) and a police intelligence database.
Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw, who was instrumental in getting details of Operation Reproof heard at the Leveson inquiry, said: "It does seem odd that at the end of one of the most expensive and lengthy investigations carried out by Devon and Cornwall Police, in which they found evidence that was apparently strong enough to take to trial, more severe action was not taken against the police officers involved. It appears to me to be little more than a slap on the wrist."
Documents, released under the Freedom of Information Act, show that an inspector, a sergeant and three constables faced hearings along with two civilian members of staff. Names of those involved have been blanked out.
The inspector and two constables were given "management advice" – the lowest possible form of sanction available by the chief officer who presided over the hearings. His name was also withheld by the force.
Another constable was given a "written warning" which would have stayed on file for 12 months. The sergeant retired before any action could be taken.
The case was not proven against a "case reviewer", while the force could not find the details of the case against a member of communications staff.
Papers from one case detailed how one of the officers said he was "fearful of being labelled 'a leak'" when told he was under inquiry. It concluded that "on the balance of probabilities" he had made checks on the Police National Computer and disclosed the details.
Another officer, again "on the balance of probabilities", had leaked information from the police intelligence database about stop-checks that had been carried out on a car.
Details about a case which never reached court were also disclosed, the papers show.
In his statement to the Leveson inquiry last month, Detective Chief Superintendent Russ Middleton said nine serving police officers from Devon and Cornwall, five serving support staff from Devon and Cornwall, six retired police officers and two serving police officers from Dorset Police "had been identified as being suspected of committing offences ranging from corruption to computer misuse and Data Protection Act offences".
The Prison Service, Housing and Benefits Agency, British Telecom, Orange Telecom, and the South Western Electricity Board were also alleged sources of illicit information.
Mr Middleton, the deputy senior investigating officer on Operation Reproof, also confirmed that confidential information on two MPs had been found.
Courts papers, obtained by The Guardian last summer, apparently showed that Gordon Brown, then Chancellor, was one of those who had been targeted by illegal checks on the Police National Computer.
Mr Middleton said they found no evidence of the involvement with the Press but that much of the information was given to private investigators who then traded it on to others including national and international companies such as insurers and lawyers.