A reporter with the Sun newspaper paid a police officer and a prison officer for stories and kept a stolen phone overnight to check out its contents, a court heard today.
The case against Nick Parker, 53, was in many respects about what he was prepared to do to obtain stories, Michael Parroy QC told the Old Bailey.
Parker is on trial with the prison officer allegedly involved, Lee Brockhouse, 44, and the man accused of stealing the phone, 30-year-old Michael Ankers.
Parroy, prosecuting, said that an officer with Surrey Police, Pc Alan Tierney, contacted The Sun on two occasions and sold them stories about celebrities or their relations with whom he had contact in his job.
"He had no business doing it and has pleaded guilty to criminal offences arising out of these stories," Parroy said.
"Mr Parker knew perfectly well that Mr Tierney was a police officer, he was a public servant and had no lawful right whatsoever to sell stories to the press."
Money for these stories was not paid directly to Mr Tierney, but rather to his relations to try to hide what both parties knew was an unlawful set of actions, the court heard.
"Mr Tierney was after the money and Mr Parker was after the story," Mr Parroy said.
Brockhouse was a prison officer at HMP Swaleside in Kent, and also sold stories to Parker and the Sun, Parroy said.
"He also had no business whatsoever selling information that came to him as a result of that position which he held."
Counsel added: "Mr Brockhouse is anxious to get the money and Mr Parker is anxious to get the story."
Brockhouse was also selling stories to The People, Parroy said.
While this was happening, the three felt safe because of the paper's policy of refusing to reveal sources, but with revelations that led to the Leveson inquiry, the newspaper had disclosed what was going on, the court was told.
Parker had not stopped there, counsel said.
The window of a car parked by an MP in Tooting was smashed and her handbag containing her mobile phone was stolen.
Within 45 minutes, Ankers was using the handset with his own sim card in it, jurors were told.
"The next day he was in contact with The Sun, saying he had the phone of a Member of Parliament."
He and Parker met in a hotel in Richmond and Parker either personally or via a technician downloaded the contents of the phone on to his laptop, or typed them on to his laptop, counsel told the court.
Parroy added: "Mr Parker knew perfectly well that Mr Ankers was not the lawful owner of that phone.
"Both knew perfectly well they had no business looking at that phone, but they did so, and Mr Parker hung on to it overnight, and the next day they met again, and the phone was finally handed in to the police."
Parroy said: "A free press is an essential part of a free society. That does not mean that public servants are entitled to sell stories based on information they get as part of their jobs to the press and it does not mean the press can act above the law to buy those stories and thus encourage this unlawful behaviour.
"A reporter is no different from anyone else, he is not entitled to handle stolen goods dishonestly and he is not entitled, just because he is a reporter, to interrogate someone's else's phone he has no business to have in his possession at all."
He told the jury: "You are not dealing with whistleblowers, simply people trying to make money."
Parroy said Parker was employed by News International as its chief foreign correspondent and as a writer on the Sun.
He began work with the Sun in 1988 and was employed by that paper at all times relevant for this case.
Tierney, following the alleged disclosure that he had sold stories to Parker, was dismissed from Surrey Police in July 2012 for gross misconduct.
The first alleged charge involving Tierney and Parker related to an incident in March 2009 when Surrey Police attended an incident at Tesco in Weybridge.
This involved alleged shoplifting by two women, Susan Terry, the mother of the footballer John Terry, and Susan Poole, who is his mother-in-law, counsel said. In due course, the two women were cautioned.
Tierney had the advantage of having first-hand knowledge of what had occurred, and following this event a series of articles appeared in the Sun, over the byline of Parker, about what had happened.
The second charge involving Tierney and Parker related to an incident in December 2009 when Ronnie Wood, one of the Rolling Stones, was arrested in Claygate in Surrey for common assault arising from an incident with his girlfriend Ekaterina Ivanova.
This led to a front page article appearing over Parker's byline which was described as an exclusive.
Parker, of Twickenham, south-west London, denies three counts of aiding and abetting misconduct in public office, a count of handling stolen goods, and one of securing unauthorised access to computer material.
Brockhouse, of Sittingbourne, Kent, denies two counts of misconduct in public office, and Ankers, of no fixed abode, denies a count of theft, and handling stolen goods, relating to the mobile phone, of MP Siobhain McDonagh.