Sun crime reporter Anthony France paid a police officer more than £22,000 for 38 stories over three years, the Old Bailey was told this morning.
France, who has worked for the newspaper since 2004, is accused of paying for a series of stories relating to Heathrow Airport where his alleged source, PC Tim Edwards, was based.
The court heard how France paid Edwards, who worked in the airport's SO15 Counter Terrorism Command, for stories about drunken pilots, prisoners on the run, a thief who stole from toddlers in hospital and a male British Airways employee with a stiletto heel “fetish”.
The court was also told of a story headlined "Scanner glamour ding-dong”, which alleged that a Heathrow airport worker had behaved inappropriately to a female colleague as she passed through a body scanner.
Zoe Johnson QC, prosecuting, told the jury that the relationship was “beneficial both to PC Edwards and to Mr France – but seriously detrimental to you, the public”.
She told the court: “This is not a case of whistleblowing in a noble cause. We suggest that there is no public interest in the stories that Mr France published.” She added that “public interest” is different to “what may interest the public”.
Johnson said that Edwards was “motivated by greed” and France “by acquiring the next big story, the next exclusive story”.
She explained to the jury that the prosecution’s evidence would be divided into three categories of stories, beginning this morning with the “most serious”, which it is alleged originated from the police officer accessing information through databases and confidential reports. The second category concerned stories that Edwards would have come across in his job, and the third related to information paid for which did not result in stories.
The first "serious" case, resulting in a July 2008 story, reported that a named BA engineer had been caught on secret cameras in a Heathrow airport building wearing a bodice and parading up a makeshift catwalk in high heeled shoes.
Describing this as a “rather salacious story”, Johnson said: “We suggest that this was a grievous abuse of PC Edwards’ authority as a police officer. Why? Well, because he had arrested [the employee] in August 2007. So almost a year before.” She explained that the Crown Prosecution Service had decided not to prosecute the man – who was identified in the article – before the story appeared. The court was told that Edwards was paid £850 for the story.
Next, the jury was told that Edwards was paid £500 for a story headlined “The most evil thief in Britain”, which told of a thief targeting children "fighting for their lives” in hospitals.
The court was also told of several stories involving pilots who were suspected of being over the alcohol limit in both the first and second categories of evidence.
One of these involved a pilot who was taken into custody after armed police boarded a jet with 300 passengers on board. He was said to have smelled of alcohol after attending a Christmas party the night before.
Another story was headlined “Runners in the family”, was about a prisoner who had become the fifth member of his family to flee a prison van.
The story recounted how two armed men sprung the man from a prison van on its way to court. The van was not escorted by police, even though his close relatives has staged successful escapes from prison custody in the recent past.
Another story in the “serious” category was about a “cover girl” flew into a “rage” on an aeroplane when her “fella” was caught “romping” with another woman. The story headlined "Cover girl rages as fella romps on jet: sex fury at 30,000 feet" and it included a quote from a police source saying: "They certainly put the bang into Bangalore."
The court was told that the Metropolitan Police’s press bureau had confirmed the story but not given out the names of the three people involved. They began “actively investigating” how these names were released.
There were also several stories referred to in which people had been arrested, and sometimes charged, with drug offences or suspected terrorist plots.
Another Sun story by France, which made a front page in March 2010, was headlined “Scanner glamour ding-dong” and alleged that a Heathrow employee had used a body scanner to "ogle" at a colleague’s breasts. The court was told that Edwards was paid £1,200 for information relating to this story. Jurors were told the story turned out to be inaccurate and The Sun later printed an apology, also accepting it was an invasion of the victim's privacy.
Included in the second most serious category was a “salacious” story alleging that a pensioner was seen having sex with a horse by the side of a road.
There were further stories in this category about a police officer at Heathrow charged with child sex offences, thefts worth £1m from a duty free warehouse and an elderly lady who had her purse stolen while on her way to visit a “dying pal”.
The court was also told of a story that the prosecution suggested was “inaccurate” because it reported that a baby had been accidentally “smothered” by its mother when she fell asleep. Johnson told the court that the Met told The Sun it was “unexplained” and that this was the finding of a coroner also.
The prosecution also highlighted a story in which France reported how a police officer had given information from a police database to a criminal and dubbed a “traitor”. Johnson suggested that France knew Edwards had misused his position in this way and accused him of “stunning hypocrisy”.
The court was told that the pair’s contact, according to communications evidence, ended on 24 June 2011, around the commencement of Operation Elveden.
France, from Watford, was arrested in January 2013 and questioned again in July 2013 and April 2014, she said. He refused to comment throughout this time.
Johnson said: “I anticipate that Mr France will argue in this trial that he had no idea that what he was doing was so wrong as to amount to a criminal offence.” She also suggested that he will say he did not keep this a secret from senior colleagues. But Johnson told the jury that “ignorance of the law is no defence”.
The trial continues.