Sun staff made illegal payments on 'grand scale', court hears

Chris Pharo, Ben O'Driscoll, Jamie Pyatt, John Edwards, Graham Dudman, John Troup Image copyright Reuters/PA
Image caption Clockwise from top left; Chris Pharo, Ben O'Driscoll, Jamie Pyatt, John Edwards, Graham Dudman, John Troup. They all deny the charges

Six senior staff and journalists at the Sun newspaper made illegal payments to public officials on "a grand scale", a crown court jury has been told.

Prosecutors say the men conspired to pay officials from 2002-11, including police, prison officers and soldiers.

They are accused of buying confidential information about the Royal Family, celebrities and prison inmates.

The six men, who deny all the charges, include the Sun's news editor, picture editor and ex-managing editor.

All six members of staff are charged with conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office.

The Sun's head of news Chris Pharo faces six charges, while ex-managing editor Graham Dudman and ex-Sun deputy news editor Ben O'Driscoll are accused of four charges each.

Thames Valley district reporter Jamie Pyatt and picture editor John Edwards are charged with three counts each, while ex-reporter John Troup is accused of two counts.

'Craven conduct'

Opening the prosecution's case at Kingston Crown Court in south-west London, Peter Wright QC described the payments as "craven conduct motivated by greed on the part of the public servants who had information to sell".

"This trial is about a series of corrupt agreements between staff and journalists at the Sun newspaper on the one hand, and various public officials on the other," he said.

"We say this was craven conduct directed by the greed on the part of the public servants that they could sell information, and journalists and management at the Sun were prepared to pay for it."

Image caption The jury heard details of alleged payments involving a story about Simply Red singer Mick Hucknall

He said at "no point" did staff and journalists alleged to have been involved in the illegal payments express concern that the law was being broken.

The men plotted together as part of an "over-arching" plan and also separately in "sub-conspiracies", he said.

Their motivation "was not public interest but profit" and "in order to further their own agenda", Mr Wright added.

"The principal interest, we say, of the journalists and staff at the Sun, we say, was good copy," he told the jury.

"Newsworthiness - 'splashes' as they are called in the trade - and exclusives."

'Titillate or amuse'

Mr Wight told the jury the alleged payments began in 2000, when a former Surrey Police officer told Sun reporter Mr Pyatt that Simply Red singer Mick Hucknall had been arrested over an allegation of rape.

The allegation was dropped a day later but - having received the tip-off - Mr Pyatt then cultivated him as a paid source, Mr Wright said.

The court also heard, in May 2009, the same officer leaked a story about Dane Bowers, the singer and former boyfriend of glamour model Katie Price, also known as Jordan.

Mr Pyatt is accused of telling Mr Pharo in 2009: "He has been with me since the Mick Hucknall splash for rape and knows what a splash and spread exclusive on Jordan is worth."

Image copyright PA
Image caption The court heard a police computer system was accessed for details about the arrest of quiz host Chris Tarrant

Mr Wright said it showed the stories alleged to have been bought aimed to "titillate or amuse, as opposed to inform the public on matter of public interest".

News editor Mr Pharo is accused of authorising 34 payments for a total of about £21,000 between March 2002 and January 2011.

The payments included tip-offs to a soldier posted at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst while Prince William and Prince Harry attended the college and a healthcare assistant at Broadmoor Special Hospital who worked with criminals such as Peter Sutcliffe, known as the Yorkshire Ripper.

Police computer system

Mr Pharo is also said to have approved payments a former Metropolitan Police officer and a prison officer at HMP Swaleside.

The prosecution also detailed telephone contacts between district reporter Mr Pyatt and a Surrey Police officer, Simon Quinn, in March 2009.

Mr Wright told the jury the phone contact coincided with the officer accessing a police computer system and looking for details about the arrest of TV personality Chris Tarrant, who had been held by police a few days earlier on suspicion of assault.

He also referred to another Sun headline from a April 2009 story in the newspaper about a couple caught by police having sex on the lawn at Windsor Castle.

He showed the jury emails from Mr Pyatt and his managers suggesting the story had come from a Thames Valley Police officer who had been paid £1,500 for the information.

Mr Pharo, 45, of Sandhurst, Berkshire; Mr Pyatt, 51, of Windsor, Berkshire; Mr O'Driscoll, 38, also of Windsor, Berkshire; Mr Edwards, 50, of Brentwood, Essex; Mr Dudman, 51, also of Brentwood, Essex; and Mr Troup, 49, of Saffron Walden, Essex, deny the charges against them.