A Sun reporter has told how he turned down a story from a police source who claimed a colleague was a user of an app which connects gay and bi-sexual men.
Vince Soodin, 39, is on trial at the Old Bailey accused of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office by paying Sussex Police Sergeant James Bowes £500 for a story tip.
The court heard how Soodin arranged for Bowes to be paid by The Sun in exchange for a tip about a fox attacking a three-year-old boy at a school in Brighton, which Soodin said was in the public interest.
Soodin, whose notebooks and phone records were obtained by police investigating him, told the court that several senior Sun colleagues were aware that the officer was being paid for the June 2010 story and that no one told him it was illegal.
Soodin told the Old Bailey how Bowes contacted him over two other potential stories, which he was not paid for. In July 2010, he texted him with information about the search for victims of serial killer Peter Tobin. Although the paper published a story afterwards, Bowes was not paid, the court was told. Soodin said Bowes also told him that the police were using a clairvoyant to help with the case.
Bowes again contacted Soodin, he said, in December 2010 claiming a colleague was using Grindr – an app which enables gay men to meet each other.
Soodin said he judged that this story was not in the public interest. “It just wasn’t a story,” he said during questioning by William Harbage QC, defending. “It’s not appropriate, I don’t think,” he added, comparing the use of Grindr to Facebook and other social networking sites.
He told the court that he believed his fox attack story was in the public interest, coming less than two weeks after twin children were attacked in Hackney, London. After being contacted by “tipster Mike” – the name Bowes originally gave for himself, asking to remain anonymous – Soodin said he did not ask for his identity, to verify whether he was a police officer or not.
He said that he verified the story by phoning Sussex Police for an official comment as well as the council and the RSPCA.
Asked by prosecutor Peter Wright QC why he did not tell police that his “tipster” had claimed to work for the force, Soodin said he did not want to identify his source. When it was suggested by Wright that identifying his source as a police officer would not have exposed his identity, Soodin said: “I’m afraid it could actually lead to him being exposed as a source.”
Wright also asked Soodin why in his notebook he had written “£350” by a story called “Tobin wife” , and suggested the reporter was “cultivating an informant”.
Soodin denied Bowes was his personal contact, highlighting the fact he had contacted The Sun newsdesk on a Saturday, when no one else was in the office. “That’s the reason I’m here,” he said.
Wright asked: "Is there a public interest in a journalist entering into a private agreement with a policeman to provide confidential information in return for money?"
Soodin replied: "There is no private agreement. He emailed the Sun the story. I stood that story up. He was then paid as a tipster for that story. There was no agreement with the police."
The lawyer pressed: "Is there a public interest in public officials contacting the newspapers?"
Soodin replied: "From time to time I think it's healthy."
Wright: "So you consider there is a public interest, do you, in police officers being in the pay of the press?"
The defendant said: "Does the payment matter? Why is payment significant? It's important that the police should be able to speak to the press, surely."
Giving the example of the Stephen Lawrence murder inquiry, he asserted: "I think they should be able to speak to the press, officially and unofficially."
Wright asserted that Bowes was a "bent copper", not a whistleblower, but Soodin insisted he did not even know he was an officer at the time he first contacted the Sun.
The lawyer also suggested that Soodin had lied when he said Bowes had not been a particularly valuable source.
He said: "That is the very heart of what this case is all about. You realised from the outset that there was considerable value in you having a policeman prepared and willing to provide you with confidential information."
But Soodin insisted: "I'm not a liar."
The journalist, of Greenwich, South East London, denies any wrongdoing.