'Blaming' News International 'is not a defence' hacking trial told

The jury in the Sun six trial has been discharged from returning a verdict on claims that head of news Chris Pharo (pictured, Reuters) paid a prison guard for information

Pharo, alongside five colleagues – managing editor Graham Dudman, 51, ex-deputy news editor Ben O'Driscoll, 38, picture editor John Edwards, 50, and reporters Jamie Pyatt, 51, and John Troup, 49 – is accused of paying public officials for stories.

The court heard today that journalists at The Sun paid public officials for stories in a culture where "cash was king".

Reporters and editors at the tabloid did not care where information came from in a climate where "everyone and anyone had a price", said prosecutor Peter Wright QC.

It is alleged six senior members of the paper's staff conspired to pay serving police officers, a prison guards, and a staff member at Broadmoor for a "steady stream" of leaks.

Wright said the public officials were lured in with a "large wheelbarrow of cash" so The Sun could land front page splashes and exclusive on notorious killers like the Yorkshire Ripper and stars including Katie Price, Wayne Rooney and Dane Bowers.

He said the journalists on trial were now hiding behind the "fig leaf of journalistic public interest", angry that their bosses at New International handed them in to police.

"It was the heart of the journalistic culture in which it was considered perfectly acceptable to obtain stories for publication, irrespective of the occupation of the source," said Wright.

"It was a culture in which cash was king.

"Everyone and anyone had a price, the story was utmost, the ends justified the means.

"If the story was newsworthy, and that spanned everything from an incident that gripped the nation to one that simply amused a section of it, and if it was capable of being stood up, it could be run, regardless of how the information or material underlying the article had been obtained."

It is alleged they bought confidential details from Surrey Police PC Simon Quinn, Broadmoor healthcare worker Robert Neave, a prison guard, and two other police officers between 2002 and 2011.

Wright said O'Driscoll, who now works for the Daily Mail, had let slip the reasons behind the culture of paying public officials while in the witness box.

"During the course of his evidence, a somewhat rueful Ben O'Driscoll made this observation: 'In an ideal world I would want them to pass on the information voluntarily, but they are enticed at The Sun by a large wheelbarrow of cash.'

"This observation was as insightful as it was acerbic.

"It maybe the expression of a man who by the time he uttered it in the witness box, having left The Sun some time ago and pursued his journalistic career elsewhere where payment for stories is not done ordinarily, had the scales lifted from his eyes.

"But it was an observation that encapsulated all that was wrong at this national newspaper."

Wright said the jury at Kingston Crown Court should look at the alleged conduct of the journalists through the eyes of the public officials leaking information.

"The never ending fascination with Broadmoor and notorious inmates could be serviced from the goldmine of a member of staff who was prepared to sell such information as he could get his hands on – to do the bidding of his paymaster," he said.

"The lives and personal tragedies of members of the public could be sold to the most willing buyer for public consumption."

He added: "Payment was the necessary lubricant that facilitated the receipt of a steady flow of information and material.

"Without it, they didn't get their splashes, they didn't get their exclusives, they didn't get their stories.

"Those supplying these stories, they were not motivated by a desire to bring to the attention of the public through the arm of the press some grave misdeed or some grave wrongdoing.

"They were motivated by those pieces of silver that kept dropping into their laps."

He told the jury The Sun's journalists were exposed in their emails to each other, referring to "police contact", "prison source" and "tipster Bob" and asking for cash payments to their contacts to protect their identities.

But he said they were now "using the fig leaf of journalistic public interest in the story being told in order to cover what we say was naked and venal conduct".

"There existed at The Sun a policy of payment to public officers in return for confidential information.

"It's a policy that's reflected in the following: the open way in which public officials were referred to in emails and expenses claims, the tenor of the emails and expenses claims, the fact that no one challenged or questioned the requests for payments, the fact that payment was routinely approved and later authorised and paid.

"It was an open secret, and the ire of some of these defendants was not borne out the accusations, it's that they have been exposed by the very organisation they thought they could confidently rely on to maintain the secret.

"Blaming others is not a defence, it's a harsh reality of life."

Wright added that the idea of paying a public official would have been obviously wrong to The Sun's journalists.

"The misconduct was of the gravest seriousness, it was a wholesale abuse of the public's trust in the office holder and was thoroughly without a reasonable excuse or justification," he said.

"Each defendant knew it too, you don't need a memo to tell you bribing a policeman or agreeing to bribe one is utterly wrong."

Pharo, of Wapping, London, O'Driscoll, of Windsor, Berkshire, and Dudman, of Brentwood, Essex, all deny three counts of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.

Edwards, of Hutton, Brentwood, Essex, and Pyatt, of Windsor, deny two counts of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.

Troup, of Saffron Walden, Essex, denies one charge of misconduct in public office. 

All six defendants have been cleared of an overarching conspiracy to pay public officials, while Pharo was found not guilty of paying a Sandhurst soldier.

The jury have been discharged from returning a verdict on claims that Pharo paid a prison guard for information.

The trial continues.

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