Four former and current Sun journalists and a serving Metropolitan Police officer arrested over alleged illegal police payments have been bailed by detectives.
Senior Sun employees Chris Pharo, 42, and Mike Sullivan along with former executives Fergus Shanahan, 57, and Graham Dudman, were named by sources as suspects facing corruption allegations.
Scotland Yard confirmed five men detained early on Satuday by officers from Operation Elveden, launched following the phone hacking scandal, were later released pending further inquiries.
Their arrests came as officers swooped on News International‘s headquarters in Wapping in a bid to gain new evidence surrounding the Sun’s newsgathering activities.
Pharo is one of the best-selling tabloid’s most senior news executives while Sullivan is a long-serving and respected crime editor with the paper.
Dudman was a long-serving managing editor of The Sun until last year, when he was moved to a training role working across News International. Former Sun deputy editor Shanahan also held an executive role.
Operation Elveden – which runs alongside the Met’s Operation Weeting team – was launched as the phone-hacking scandal erupted last July with allegations about the now-axed News of the World targeting Milly Dowler’s mobile phone.
The 29-year-old male officer was arrested at a police station in central London where he works. Dudman, Sullivan and Shanahan were arrested at their homes on the borders of the capital early on Saturday morning.
Pharo was arrested at 11am when he attended an east London police station.
Lawyers were said to have joined officers in the newsrooms between 6am and 8am to ensure journalists’ sources were not compromised.
Officers gained warrants to search the home addresses of the suspects in addition to the Sun’s offices, Scotland Yard said.
The officer, who serves with the MPS Territorial Policing command, was held on suspicion of corruption, misconduct in a public office and conspiracy in relation to the offences.
The journalists were questioned on suspicion of corruption, aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office and conspiracy in relation to the offences.
All five men were bailed to various dates in April and May.
A force spokesman said the operation was “the result of information provided to police by News Corporation‘s management and standards committee”.
He added: “It relates to suspected payments to police officers and is not about seeking journalists to reveal confidential sources in relation to information that has been obtained legitimately.”
News Corporation, the parent company of News International which owns The Sun and The Times, confirmed four current and former employees from The Sun newspaper has been arrested.
It said in a statement: “News Corporation made a commitment last summer that unacceptable news gathering practices by individuals in the past would not be repeated.
“It commissioned the Management and Standards Committee (MSC) to undertake a review of all News International titles, regardless of cost, and to proactively co-operate with law enforcement and other authorities if potentially relevant information arose at those titles.
“As a result of that review, which is ongoing, the MSC provided information to the Elveden investigation.”
Deborah Glass, deputy chairman of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which is supervising the investigation, said: “I am satisfied with the strenuous efforts being made by this investigation to identify police officers who may have taken corrupt payments and I believe the results will speak for themselves.
“By supervising this important development in Operation Elveden, the IPCC is providing crucial independent oversight in what is a complex criminal inquiry – not just into allegations of corruption against police officers, but allegations involving members of the media.
“I have considered the IPCC’s role and whether to use our powers more directly and in this particular instance, given the interlocking nature of the investigation and arrests which do not just involve police officers, I believe the priority is not around whose powers should be used, but for an effective investigation that brings wrongdoers to justice.
“While we continue to provide a supervisory role across Operation Elveden, I will consider each referral on its own merit and we will investigate independently if appropriate.”
Elveden was launched after officers were handed documents suggesting News International journalists made illegal payments to police officers.
Others questioned as part of the inquiry include former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, ex-Downing Street communications chief Andy Coulson, former News of the World managing editor Stuart Kuttner, the paper’s former royal editor Clive Goodman, former News of the World crime editor Lucy Panton and Sun district editor Jamie Pyatt.
Mrs Brooks and Mr Coulson are both former editors of the News of the World, which was closed in July at the height of the hacking scandal following disclosures that murdered teenager Milly Dowler’s phone was involved.
Sir Paul Stephenson, the then Met Commissioner, said in July that evidence from the publisher suggested a small number of officers were involved.
The phone hacking scandal led to the closure of the News of the World after 168 years, prompted a major public inquiry, and forced the resignation of Sir Paul and assistant commissioner John Yates.
The arrests bring the number of people questioned in the Elveden investigation to 14. Scotland Yard has arrested 13 suspects and the IPCC has arrested one.