'I do not accept I acted unlawfully at all': Sun journalist defends looking at contents of MP's Blackberry

A Sun journalist denied to a court that he "acted unlawfully at all" by looking at the contents of an MP's Blackberry phone. (Picture: Shutterstock)

Nick Parker told the Old Bailey he had searched through Siobhain McDonagh's phone because he had been told there was evidence of "criminality" on it.

Michael Ankers is in the dock at the Old Bailey alongside him accused of stealing the phone and then trying to sell its contents for £10,000.

While cross examining the college student yesterday, prosecutor Michael Parroy QC read out Parker's notes on an initial conversation he had with Ankers about "topics of interest" from some 150 texts stored on the mobile.

The first was about a text from an MP in the context of the leadership contest between David and Ed Miliband saying: "I will kill myself if Ed wins", the court heard.

Others notes referred to "jokes about William Hague having to share a hotel bedroom"; "Ed and Boris" both using politics as a "plaything", and another about "holding out for bribes for hard cash".

The last of the five topics referred to an apparent text stating: "Although the decision is brave and honourable and I guess has been taken after internal consultancy but I (supporters/voters) am very sad, unhappy and upset for the country," the court heard.

The prosecutor told Ankers: "You have obviously taken time and trouble to do a pretty careful and thorough reconnaissance about what is on the phone."

The defendant admitted he thought he had hit upon a "goldmine" when he came across the BlackBerry mobile on the Tube at Tooting Bec, south west London, in October 2010.

He told jurors that he initially thought about handing it in, but then in a "momentary lapse of judgment" binned the MP's sim card, and inserted his own with the idea of giving the handset to his niece for Christmas.

But then, after reading a selection of text messages on the phone, he changed his mind again and contacted The Sun by calling an advertised number.

The court heard he met Parker at a cafe in Richmond and went with him to the nearby Petersham Hotel where he showed off the phone and agreed a £10,000 contract if the contents were of use to the tabloid.

Parroy said: "From the eager look on his face you think, 'this is a goldmine'?"

Ankers replied: "Pretty much, yeah."

Parroy went on: "And you think to yourself 'I'm going to ask for a big figure'?"

The defendant said: "I never thought I would get £10,000 out of it."

Ankers told the court that he never thought of himself as stealing the phone and he had settled on handing it in "but obviously going to the papers first".

In his evidence earlier in this week, Parker justified looking at the contents of the phone because he had been told there was evidence of "criminality" on it.

He told jurors: "Journalists are obliged to work in a grey area sometimes. They are obliged to take risks.

"If I'm told there is evidence of criminality on that phone… I was sent to work on that phone. It's run by lawyers, it's run by news desk, senior managers. They sent me. I do not accept I acted unlawfully at all."

He said, as it turned out, the text about bribery was "obviously a joke" and there was no story in it for the newspaper but the only way to establish that was to look at the phone.

Earlier this week, prison officer Lee Brockhouse told jurors that if he had been in it for the money he could have sold celebrity "tittle tattle" about snooker world champion Ronnie O'Sullivan's jailed father.

Brockhouse insisted he only highlighted issues in the public interest which is why he never took the opportunity to peddle stories about high profile inmates at HMP Swaleside in Kent.

That also included So Solid Crew band member Carl Morgan, who was serving a life sentence for shooting a man, and teacher Philip Lawrence's killer Learco Chindamo, the court heard.

The 44-year-old is accused of misconduct in a public office.

Giving evidence in his defence, Brockhouse said: "Ronnie O'Sullivan's father was in prison at Swaleside. He was give a life sentence for murder."

His lawyer Adam Wiseman queried whether he ever tried to "peddle that sort of tittle tattle", the defendant said: "No. I was his personal officer – anything to do with them, whether it be inside or outside, they would come to you first and foremost."

Asked why not, Brockhouse replied: "Because it was not in the public interest. It is not showing a broader view of what is going on at the jail. It's concentrating on that one person – it's not an illegal way of how drugs are coming in or mobile phones coming in."

Brockhouse told the court that Parker was his contact at The Sun but he also gave information to a reporter at the Sunday People too.

On being paid in cash, he said: "All I saw it as Nick's appreciation for helping him do his job to highlight the problems of what is going on in this country's prison service."

He said he asked Parker not to name him as the source because he did not want the "focus" to be deflected from the story itself.

Brockhouse said when he dealt with the People he was not trying to start some sort of competition for the stories he had to offer.

"I was not in the process of playing one off against the other. I did not ring NickParker and say 'how much am I going to get for it?' and then ring the People," he said.

He highlighted a story about a member of prison staff having a relationship with an inmate as a story that was in the public interest.

"Unfortunately within the prison service this is not the first instance of an officer having a relationship with a prisoner whether it is female or male.

"What she has done here is a total disregard for her safety and fellow officers' safety. She is open to assault, attack sexually physically if other offenders found out what was going on."

The court heard that Brockhouse stopped his contact with all newspapers nearly two years before his arrest.

Wiseman asked him why he did not carry on, and the defendant replied: "Because of what I had done – for me it had served its purpose and the main purpose was to show people outside the system what was going on inside the jails. I could have sold other stories about other celebrities."

Parker, 53, of Twickenham, south-west London, denies three counts of aiding and abetting misconduct in public office, a count of handling stolen goods, and one of securing unauthorised access to computer material.

Brockhouse, of Sittingbourne, Kent, denies two counts of misconduct in public office, and Ankers, 30, of no fixed abode, denies a count of theft, and handling stolen goods, relating to the mobile phone.

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