The number one military contact of the Sun's chief reporter could have been the wife of an army officer who wanted to avoid the "shame and ignominy" of passing on "pillow talk", for all a tabloid boss knew, a court heard today.
Deputy editor Geoff Webster (pic: Reuters) is on trial at the Old Bailey accused of signing off payments to a Ministry of Defence official at the request of veteran journalist John Kay.
The court has heard that Bettina Jordan-Barber made £100,000 by passing on story tips to 71-year-old Kay, including snippets about Prince Harry and the Duke of Cambridge.
But in his closing speech, Webster's barrister, Geoffrey Cox QC, told the jury that he would not have known if the person Kay referred to as his "number one military contact" was a public official.
He told jurors: "Number one military contact simply means somebody connected with the Army who could get stories but how they were connected, it was impossible to say from the email."
That could mean anyone, from a spouse to a retired army officer, he said, and Kay was deliberately "opaque" and "ambiguous" in the way he described Jordan-Barber to Webster.
Kay was also prone to "trumpet blowing" and was well known in the office for his flair for the dramatic and enthusiasm for his stories and contacts, Cox added.
The barrister said: "The Crown say 'OK, let's leave aside the rest of the language, what about the fact she has to be careful? That conveys to the reader she has some special and important role of public officer'.
"But why? You know all sorts of people want confidentiality for all sorts of reasons. If the wife of an officer was passing on information she heard in pillow talk from her husband, information about the Army which gave away details of fellow officers, don't you suppose she would face the most ignominious shame if exposed?
"The shame, the stigma, the ignominy would be intense. And that's why so many people decide for mixed reasons when they report a matter to the Sun to prefer anonymity at all costs.
"So why would you, from the mere fact that somebody has to be careful – making allowance for the fact this is John Kay, who is well known for being enthusiastic about his sources – would you conclude this is somebody at the heart of the MoD and a public officer?"
Cox described police as Sherlock Holmes characters in deerstalker hats chasing down a trail when reference to a military source in an email could mean all kinds of people.
Kay, Webster, and the Sun's executive editor Fergus Shanahan are accused of conspiring with each other and Mrs Jordan-Barber to commit misconduct in a public office between 1 January 2004 and 31 January 2012.
Webster is also accused on a second count of conspiracy to commit misconduct with a serving officer in the armed forces between November 3 and 6 2010.
Former colour sergeant John Hardy is charged with committing misconduct in a public office between 9 February 2006 and 16 October 2008 while his wife Claire Hardy and royal editor Duncan Larcombe are accused of aiding and abetting him.
Kay, of Golders Green, north London; Larcombe, 39, of Aylesford, Kent; Webster, 55, of Goudhurst, Kent; Shanahan, 59, of Felsted, Essex; and John Hardy, 44, and Claire Hardy, 41, of Accrington, Lancashire, all deny the charges against them.
The trial continues.