Detective chief inspector April Casburn, who works in specialist operations at the Metropolitan police, is accused of contacting the now-defunct tabloid newspaper on 11 September, 2010.

It is said she "wilfully misconducted herself to such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public's trust in that office".

Wearing a black dress and pink jacket, DCI Casburn, 53, of Chelmsford, spoke only to confirm her name, address and date of birth as she appeared at Westminster Magistrates Court in Marylebone.

District Judge Quentin Purdy said the matter was too serious to be dealt with the lower courts and told DCI Casburn she would appear at the Old Bailey on November 2, where she is expected to enter a plea.

Casburn is the former head of the secretive National Terrorist Financial Investigation Unit which supports some of the most sensitive police inquiries.

She was released on unconditional bail.

Taking the decision to charge DCI Casburn, the Director of Public Prosecutions said it was "in the public interest" to pursue a conviction.

In a statement, the DPP said: "We have concluded, having carefully considered the file of evidence, that there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and that it is in the public interest to charge DCI Casburn with misconduct in public office."

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