By Dominic Ponsford
A bogus tip-off that Prince William was due to propose to his girlfriend Kate Middleton prompted journalists from The Sun to fork out a cash advance.
But Press Gazette has learned that the bizarre conspiracy was foiled when Sun journalists back-traced a mobile phone number and found that one of the plotters was a journalist for a rival national paper.
It is understood that the fake-ring saga began with a tip-off to the Sun newsdesk that a Manchester-based courier firm was to take delivery of a £33,000 engagement ring from Tiffany’s jewellers in New York and transport it to Buckingham Palace.
According to more than one source in the freelance/ news agency community, The Sun provided an advance of between £400 and £500 in exchange for a telephone number which purported to be that of a source at the courier firm.
It is understood that Sun journalists then back-traced the mobile and found that it belonged to a journalist from a rival news organisation.
A source told Press Gazette: "I heard that The Sun rang him and played along, pretending they were still interested in the story, before telling him ‘If you don’t identify yourself within five seconds we are going to go straight to your editor’."
Sun news editor Chris Pharo, who is known to have been closely involved in the story, refused to comment about it, saying only: "If it’s about the Prince William engagement ring thing, I’m not going to comment."
Buckingham Palace also declined to comment about the story — although it is understood that the press office has been approached with bogus engagement rumours.
It is understood that The Sun thought it’s tip-off was sufficiently strong for editor Rebekah Wade to run it by head Palace press office spokesman Paddy Harveson.
The journalist believed to be at the centre of the fake engagement ring row also declined to comment to Press Gazette — as did a spokesman for his employers. He has not been named for legal reasons.
The journalist is not believed to have been acting in an official capacity and one well-placed source told Press Gazette: "It’s not a newspaper trying to stitch up another newspaper — it’s an individual trying to make some money."
Last month two journalists were sacked from Trinity Mirror’s national titles after similar allegations of underhand conduct.
David Brown from The People and Paul Gallagher from the Daily Mirror were sacked after Gallagher was found to have sold stories taken from the Mirror’s content editor system to the sister title.