A Sun reporter told the Old Bailey “these are dark times for the British press” while defending himself against the allegation of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office by paying a Sussex Police sergeant £500 for a story tip.
Vince Soodin, 39, denied “cultivating” James Bowes, who he described as The Sun’s rather than his own source.
He told how Bowes sent an email into The Sun newsdesk on a Saturday in June 2010 tipping it off about a fox which had bitten a three-year-old in Sussex.
Soodin was the only Sun journalist on the newsdesk at that time, and told the court: “That’s why I’m here.”
Under cross examination, Soodin, who was arrested by eight police officers at 6am in 2012, defended his story as being in the public interest – and denied Bowes was paid for other stories he brought forward.
Asked by his defence lawyer, William Harbage QC, why he offered no comment after being arrested, Soodin said: “First one would be I had advice from my lawyers… and the second is because I’m a journalist and I was being questioned about sources.”
When pushed further on the topic by Peter Wright QC, prosecuting, and asked why he did not say “I was doing my job”, Soodin said: “What would it matter? Now’s the time I have to tell you I was just doing my job.”
He added: “I said nothing in my interviews because that was my legal advice… [and] I was being questioned about a source and it is important to protect him.”
He was accused by Wright of “hiding behind” his legal advice.
Among the documents police uncovered at Soodin’s home was a home-made hierarchy list of colleagues at the newspaper, with Rebekah Brooks at the top, and a copy of the Press Complaints Commission’s Editors’ Code of Practice.
Challenged by the prosecution on the meaning of “public interest”, Soodin said he thought it was something that was “newsworthy” and of interest to the public.
He was challenged over various calls made to Bowes between June and December 2010. Soodin said he could not remember the nature of the discussions, because they were four years ago. He also pointed out that as a journalist he makes “thousands” of calls a year.
Soodin said: “I don’t think it’s against the law for a journalist to contact a public official."
It was suggested to him by Wright that making a contact of a serving police officer was of great value to him.
Soodin said: “To some journalists he may well have been of value. For me he wasn’t.”
Wright said: “It’s just a lie isn’t it?”
Soodin said: “No.”
The journalist was also challenged over whether he believes police are there to “serve” the press. He said they were. “The police provide information for the press. They do. They have numerous police press officers.”
But he denied there was an agreement made between him and Bowes, and said that only one £500 payment was made.
Soodin rejected a suggestion he was “pumping” Bowes for information, that he had “entered into a most craven arrangement” and that he “lapped [the information] up”.
“I do not believe it is ‘wholly improper’ for a journalist to have a soruce who may be a public official,” Soodin said.
“I did not cultivate Mr Bowes. Cultivating suggests I was nurturing him… and the evidence doesn’t show that.”
He added: “I realise there have been many arrests but I realise these are very dark times for the British press.”