'This is a trial about greed': John Kay accused of paying MoD official £100k as trial of four Sun journalists begins

The Sun's chief reporter and royal editor have gone on trial accused of paying public officials for story tips including "gossip and tittle-tattle" about Princes William and Harry.

John Kay (pictured, Reuters) and Duncan Larcombe are in the dock at the Old Bailey alongside executive editor Fergus Shanahan, deputy editor Geoffrey Webster, former Colour Sergeant at Sandhurst John Hardy and his wife Claire.

Between February 2006 and October 2008, while working at Sandhurst Royal Military Academy, Hardy allegedly provided information on the Princes and others to Larcombe on 34 occasions and was paid more than £23,700 by The Sun.

And Ministry of Defence official Bettina Jordan-Barber allegedly made £100,000 by selling stories to Kay between 2004 and 2012, the court heard.

Shanahan and Webster are accused of authorising payments sometimes in consultation with the editor Rebekah Brooks.

Hardy's wife is accused of collecting some payments for her husband, channelling money through her bank, jurors were told.

Opening the case, prosecutor Michael Parroy QC said: "This trial is about greed. It is about public employees who were prepared, for money, to sell to the press stories which they had obtained in the course of their work. By this process they abused the trust placed in them by the public, you and I, to keep such private information private.

"As far as the press were concerned, they were prepared to buy this material because they were greedy for stories, front page exclusives and the like. It is about the practices used by The Sun to obtain 'scoops' and 'exclusives', irrespective of the fact that the means of achieving this end involved the commission by the journalists and the public officials of criminal offences, the criminal offence of misconduct in public office.

"At the time this was happening, the press were able to conceal these unlawful activities, and those of their sources, by claiming that press freedom entitled them to conceal the truth of what had been going on. This process meant that they felt able to act with impunity, being sure that their behaviour would not ever see the light of day."

He went on: "The value placed on the information or material provided by these public officials, be they MoD official or soldier, was newsworthiness. Tittle-tattle and gossip about the royal Princes, William and Harry, had a special value, as did titbits involving salacious or embarrassing conduct – 'splashes' as they called them – involving the revelation of such things as affairs between serving soldiers or their civilian counterparts; a 'love triangle'.

"The other recurring theme is personal tragedy in the battlegrounds of Helmand province and Iraq. The public interest in such stories and involving such personal and private matters was often, you may conclude, marginal or non-existent. There are some notable exceptions, but very often the only 'interest' was that they were simply prurient, morbid or banal."

The prosecutor told the six men and six women of the jury that the case was not an attack on the freedom of the press but that no organisation was "above the law" and agreeing to pay public officials without "lawful excuse" was a crime.

Kay, Shanahan and Webster are jointly charged with conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office between 1 January 2004 and 31 January 2012 by plotting with Jordan-Barber.

Webster also faces a second count of conspiracy to commit misconduct with a serving officer in the armed forces between 3 November and 6 2010.

Hardy is charged with misconduct in a public office between February 9 2006 and October 16 2008 over the sale of stories about the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.

Claire Hardy is accused of aiding and abetting him in the offence.

Larcombe is charged with aiding, abetting, counselling and procuring John Hardy's offence.

Kay, 71, 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 is being heard before Mr Justice Saunders and is expected to go on for three months.

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