Sun's Chris Pharo tells court he spent 'half my working life' in Rebekah Brooks' office getting payments approved

The Sun's news editor said he spent "half my working life" in Rebekah Brooks' (pictured, Reuters) office getting her to approve cash payments to sources, a court heard today.

Chris Pharo, 45, said Brooks, who edited the paper for six years between 2003 and 2009, had the final say on vast amounts of payments made by the tabloid paper.

He said his role as head of news was to "price" the stories, but no payment could be made without the approval of Brooks or the "editor of the day" in her absence.

"There were so many of the cash payment requests that I seemed to spend half my working life in her office", he told Kingston Crown Court.

Shown a document authorising a £250 cash payment allegedly made to a prison guard for a story about a bomb scare inside the prison, Pharo identified Brooks' signature.

"Can you remember now whether you had any dealings with her about that?", asked Nigel Rumfitt QC, defending.

Pharo replied: "I can't, it's more than five years ago."

The court has heard a Sun journalist, who cannot be named, emailed Pharo in February 2009, asking for payment to a source.

"Chris, need to fix a cash payment for excl sing col about the Freeview bomb jail scare", he wrote. 

"It's going to a serving prison officer who comes up with regular stuff £300 ok?"

Pharo simply replied "£250", and the journalist then asked news desk assistant Charlotte Hull to organise the payment.

"I am not saying it's the biggest public interest story, but I think it's important for our readers", Pharo told the court.

"It's difficult to cast my mind back to that decision making process, but I would certainly have considered it."

He said the story was "exceptionally unimportant" compared with other stories that day, including the front page about dying reality star Jade Goody and a page seven lead on Jimmy Savile meeting the Yorkshire Ripper with boxer Frank Bruno.

"The Jade Goody story was enormous for The Sun, we were selling a quarter of a million extra copies every day throughout the tragedy", he said.

"I can actually remember this day because in the top right hand corner is a photo of Jimmy Savile meeting the Yorkshire Ripper and Frank Bruno inside Broadmoor.

"I was talking about how the picture was relegated to page seven when it was such an extraordinary photo.

"It goes to the heart of Broadmoor Hospital and what was going on at the time."

Pharo is accused paying two police officers, a prison guard, and a Broadmoor healthcare assistant for stories between 2002 and 2011.

He is in the dock with The Sun's former managing editor Graham Dudman, 51, deputy news editor Ben O'Driscoll, 38, reporters Jamie Pyatt, 51, and John Troup, 49, and picture editor John Edwards, who all face corruption charges.

Pharo said it was not his job to approve payments as Brooks, when editor, had to give her approval.

Pyatt asked Pharo via email on 8 September 2008 for £250 for his "police contact" on a story about a man who doused his wife in petrol and set her alight.

Pharo said: "Effectively I'm pricing the £250," and added it was "hectic" day on the paper so he would not have given much thought to the email.

"I'm valuing them and pricing them for what they are worth for their position and appearance in the paper."

Asked who actually approved the payments, Pharo replied: "The editor or the editor of the day."

The journalist told the court the phrase "police contact" had a wide meaning that did not necessarily mean serving police officer.

"I can mean a myriad of different things," he said.

"Police contact is shorthand for most journalists across the board, it doesn't matter whether they are tabloid journalists.

"It could mean a multitude of different sources."

Rumfitt asked: "Does it mean it has to be a serving police officer?"

Pharo replied: "Absolutely not."

He added that some contacts would also exaggerate their access to information and status to get paid by the paper.

"It can just about mean anything," he said of a source described in an email to him as a "prison contact".

"Unfortunately the reality is many of the people we dealt with are desperate to get their hands on the money we offered.

"They can be extremely expansive with their claims."

Pharo is accused of paying for leaks from Robert Neave, a healthcare assistant working in Broadmoor Hospital, where Britain's most notorious killers including the Yorkshire Ripper and the Stockwell Strangler are held.

He told the court he used to live in Crowthorne, the village where the hospital is, and activity inside the facility is widely talked about among locals. 

"I am aware of the fact people talk about the hospital, it is the single biggest local employer, and it looms large over the village," he said.

Pharo, of Wapping Wall, London, denies four counts of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.

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

Edwards, of 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 trial continues.

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