Sun's Duncan Larcombe vows to fight conspiracy charges 'with every breath in my body'

Sun Royal correspondent Duncan Larcombe has vowed to fight the bribe charges he is facing “with every breath in my body”

He was one of two Sun journalists to appear in court today over alleged bribes paid to public officials.

Larcombe and executive editor Fergus Shanahan appeared at Westminster Magistrates' Court accused of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office.

Larcombe, 37, of Aylesford, Kent, is alleged to have paid more than £23,000 to John Hardy, 43, who served as a Colour Sergeant at the Royal Military Training Academy at Sandhurst, and his 39-year-old wife, Claire Hardy, for stories relating mainly to the Royal Family or matters at Sandhurst.

Mr and Mrs Hardy, of Oswaldthistle, Lancashire, appeared alongside Larcombe in the dock.

All three are jointly charged with conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office between 9 February 2006 and 16 October 2008.

Shanahan, 58, from Felsted, Essex, is separately charged with conspiring with a public official and a journalist to commit misconduct in a public office. He is accused of authorising a journalist to make payments to a public official.

A fourth person, Tracey Bell, 34, also appeared in court separately charged with misconduct in a public office.

Bell, of Co-Operative Street, Goldthorpe, South Yorkshire, was employed by the Ministry of Defence as a pharmacy assistant at Sandhurst Medical Centre.

All the charges have come as a result of investigations under Operation Elveden, Scotland Yard's probe into alleged corrupt payments to public officials.

All were released on unconditional bail to appear at Southwark Crown Court on 3 June.

In a statement read outside the court by his solicitor James MacWhirter, Larcombe said he was "shocked and disappointed" to find himself charged.

"I have been a journalist since the very week Princess Diana died," he said.

"During my career, 12 years of which have been spent at the Sun, I have had the privilege to cover the Royal Family and have also risked my own life reporting on the work of our brave servicemen and women on the front line in Afghanistan.

"I hope to demonstrate that I am a responsible journalist who reported in the public interest.

"As a royal reporter I worked harder than any other at the Palace putting in place and ensuring the application of a series of criteria that had to be satisfied before a story would appear in my paper.

"For the past year I have had to remain silent but my aim now is to fight these allegations with every breath in my body in the hope that justice and common sense will prevail."

The public gallery at Westminster Magistrates' Court was packed with Sun journalists and other supporters of Larcombe and Shanahan, including former News of the World deputy editor Neil Wallis.

The defendants only spoke to confirm their personal details during the short hearings.

In a separate hearing at the same court, a bodyguard for former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks also appeared in court accused of conspiring to hide computers and other items from police investigating phone hacking and corrupt payments to public officials.

David Johnson, 47, is charged with conspiring with others to pervert the course of justice between July 15 and 19, 2011, by hiding computers and other items from Scotland Yard.

It is alleged that Johnson, of London Road, Mitcham, Surrey, conspired with six people who have already been charged, including Brooks and her husband Charlie, to "conceal computers and other items" from officers who were investigating allegations in relation to The Sun and the now-defunct News of the World.

Johnson spoke only to confirm his name and address. He was released on bail to Southwark Crown Court on 3 June.

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