Six Sun journalists on trial corrupted public officials 'on a grand scale', court hears

Six senior staff and journalists at The Sun corrupted public officials "on a grand scale" to boost profits and further their agenda, a jury has been told.

The group of editors and reporters bought confidential information about members of the Royal Family, celebrities, notorious inmates, "the famous, not so famous and the infamous", Kingston Crown Court heard.

They allegedly paid off police officers, members of the Armed Forces, prison officials and staff at Broadmoor Hospital who sold them stories for almost a decade.

Peter Wright QC, for the Crown, told the jury of three women and nine men: "This trial is about a series of corrupt agreements between staff and journalists at The Sun newspaper on the one hand, and various public officials on the other.

"It concerns corrupt agreements entered into by them, the purpose of which was to provide journalists at the newspaper with confidential information to which the various public officials had access by virtue of their employment, and they were doing it in return for payment.

"This was not, we say, a public servant who was whistleblowing on some grave miscarriage or act of the state or public body which it was considered the public needed to be aware of and respond to, which is what investigative journalism is all about.

"We say this was craven conduct directed by the greed on the part of the public servants that they could sell information, and journalists and management at The Sun were prepared to pay for it.

"They were prepared to nurture and cultivate a relationship in which there was provision of confidential information in return for payment.

"The case concerns activities involving staff and journalists at The Sun that started as long ago as 2001/2002 and a course of conduct that was deployed in which payments were made to public officials for confidential information over the best part of a decade ending in 2011.

"It was, we say, corruption on a grand scale."

The men connived together as part of an "over-arching" plot and also separately in "sub-conspiracies", prosecutors say.

Sun head of news Chris Pharo faces a total of six charges of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office, while ex-managing editor Graham Dudman and ex-Sun deputy news editor Ben O'Driscoll are accused of four.

Thames Valley district reporter Jamie Pyatt and picture editor John Edwards are charged with three counts each and ex-Sun reporter John Troup is accused of two counts.

Pharo, 45, of Sandhurst, Pyatt, 51, of Windsor, O'Driscoll, 38, of Windsor, Edwards, 50, of Brentwood, Dudman, 51, of Brentwood, and Troup, 49, of Saffron Walden, deny the charges against them.

Wright said their motivation "was not public interest but profit" and "in order to further their own agenda".

"The principal interest, we say, of the journalists and staff at The Sun, we say, was good copy," he told the jury.

"Newsworthiness – 'splashes' as they are called in the trade, and 'exclusives'.

"The sort of stories that would attract reader interest and boost sales in the daily competition for readership and profitability of a newspaper in the national media."

The prosecutor denied that the trial was an attack on press freedom to report stories that are in the public interest.

He said that the Crown accepted "as a matter of important principle the freedom of the press is vital".

But he added that the freedom of the press is "not absolute".

"The criminal law applies to journalists as well as the rest of us," he said.

"Corrupting public officials with money in return for the provision to journalists of confidential material held or obtained by them by virtue of their public office is, we say, a crime."

The origins of the alleged conspiracy could be traced back to late 2000 when Simply Red frontman Mick Hucknall was arrested over an allegation of rape, Wright said.

The rape allegation against the singer was dropped just a day later but, having received the tip-off from former Surrey Police officer Simon Quinn, Pyatt then cultivated him as a paid source.

When in May 2009 the same officer leaked a story about Dane Bowers, the former boyfriend of glamour model Jordan, Pyatt was said to have told Pharo: "He has been with me since the Mick Hucknall splash for rape and knows what a splash and spread exclusive on Jordan is worth."

Wright said this showed that the stories which were being bought aimed to "titillate or amuse as opposed to inform the public on matter of public interest".

He added "It is the prosecution's case that the defendants were not troubled by the propriety or indeed the legality of what they were engaged in irrespective of whether they were staff, journalist or public officer because for each of them the ends justified the means."

Wright said the men had aimed to "steal a march" on their rivals by paying their contacts to obtain exclusive stories.

The court heard that between the dates on the indictment for the joint conspiracy – March 2002 to January 2011 – Pharo had at least five journalists working under him.

During that time he allegedly authorised payments on 34 occasions for a total of around £21,000.

They included paid tips handed over to a soldier posted at Sandhurst when Princes William and Harry were cadets there, the court heard.

Another paid source was Robert Neave, a healthcare assistant working at Broadmoor with infamous criminals such as "Yorkshire Ripper" Peter Sutcliffe and convicted murderer Robert Napper, the court heard.

Pharo is said to have approved payments to Quinn, a Metropolitan Police officer and a prison officer at HMP Swaleside.

The remaining executives in the dock were also responsible for giving the go-ahead for payments to public officials, Wright said.

O'Driscoll allegedly authorised payments on four occasions, including one which led to a story in the newspaper about an attempted poisoning of Ann Summers boss Jacqueline Gold.

Edwards also gave authorisation four times, the court heard, including the story about a nanny working for Gold who had laced her food with screenwash.

For his part, Dudman allegedly signed off payments to police officers, public officials at Broadmoor and in the Armed Forces on two occasions.

It is claimed that in September 2002 he made several cash payments worth thousands of pounds to unknown City of London Police officers for information about the Soham murders.

In 2007 he gave approval for payment to an unknown prison guard at HMP Whitemoor category A prison who allegedly worked with Troup, the court heard.

Pyatt is accused of receiving leaks which resulted in payment on 45 or so occasions, with more than £25,000 handed over for stories he worked on.

He was described as "very much the man on the ground, cultivating and using sources".

Information he allegedly paid Quinn for included tips-offs about the Milly Dowler murder inquiry in May 2002.

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