Information about the deaths of two British service personnel in Afghanistan was printed in the Sun newspaper before it should have gone into the public domain, a senior Army officer told a court today.
One story revealed that a VC-winning corporal might have been killed by friendly fire, while the other concerned the death of a major who had taught the Duke of Cambridge at Sandhurst.
Brigadier John Donnelly, director of Army personnel services, told the Old Bailey trial of former Sun editor Rebekah Brooks and other defendants that in each case The Sun had published the information too soon.
The friendly fire story was about Corporal Bryan Budd, who was killed in August 2006 during a firefight in Afghanistan and awarded a posthumous VC.
The court heard that on 16 February 2007 The Sun ran a story saying Cpl Budd might have been shot inadvertently by one of his own comrades during the incident in Sangin, Helmand Province.
Brig Donnelly told the court: "The inquiry into how Cpl Budd had died needed to be concluded, and the widow briefed, before that went into the public domain."
Jonathan Laidlaw QC, defending Brooks, said the Ministry of Defence (MoD) press office had been briefed before 16 February that they could tell reporters "if pressed" that, given the dynamics of close-quarter battle, there was always the possibility of friendly fire.
Asked if he accepted that others might take a different view from his, that investigations should be completed before the results became known, the brigadier said: "I agree there could be a different view. Whether it's right or not is a different issue."
The other story complained of ran on 6 October 2007 and was headlined "Wills Major Killed By Taliban".
This related to the death of Major Alexis Roberts.
The brigadier said: "The story appeared before we had an opportunity to fully brief the family.
"This undermines the trust that our soldiers place in us."
But Mr Laidlaw referred him to a press release put out by the MoD on 5 October.
He asked: "Had you been shown this by the police when they came to see you, would you have made the point in your evidence that the Sun had gone too early with the story?"
He replied: "No, provided the time (of the release) is before the paper was published."
Brooks, 45, of Churchill, Oxfordshire, who was editor of The Sun at the time the stories complained of were published, denies two counts of conspiring with others to commit misconduct in public office – one between 1 January 2004, and 31 January 2012, and the other between 9 February 2006 and 16 October 2008 – linked to alleged inappropriate payments to public officials.
Brooks, who also formerly edited the News of the World; Andy Coulson, 45, from Charing, Kent; Ian Edmondson, 44, of Raynes Park, south west London; and former managing editor Stuart Kuttner, 73, of Woodford Green, Essex, all deny conspiring with others to hack phones between October 3 2000 and August 9 2006.
Brooks faces two allegations of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice – one with her former personal assistant Cheryl Carter, 49, of Chelmsford, Essex, between 6 and 9 July 2011, and a second with her husband, Charles Brooks, and former News International head of security Mark Hanna and others between 15 and 19 July, 2011.
Former News of the World editor Coulson faces two allegations that he conspired with former royal editor of the now-defunct tabloid Clive Goodman, 56, of Addlestone, Surrey, and other unknown people to commit misconduct in public office between 31 August, 2002, and 31 January, 2003, and between 31 January and 3 June, 2005.
All of the defendants deny all of the charges.
The trial continues.