Rebekah Brooks would occasionally reply to emails from her news editor seeking cash payments for the newspaper’s sources but Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper group produced none to a criminal trial of his journalists, a court heard today.
Entering the witness box for the first time in the two-month trial, Sun news editor Chris Pharo said that all cash payments had to be approved by the Sun’s deputy editor or editor.
He and five other Sun journalists – including its managing editor Graham Dudman – are accused of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office by arranging payments to public officials in return for stories.
At Kingston Crown Court, Nigel Rumfitt QC, took his client, Mr Pharo, through a series of emails from reporters requesting cash payments to various sources including one referred to as a “prison officer.”
Mr Rumfitt asked: “Is it your evidence that on occasions you forwarded this type of email chain to the editor?”, to which the news editor replied: “Yes.”
Mr Rumfitt continued: “And on occasion he or she would reply?”
Mr Pharo, who spoke earlier of the “very competitive” atmosphere at the newspaper, replied: “Yes.”
He confirmed that, although he had not known at the time, Mrs Brooks had extended to 2010 the date by which an email deletion police would destroy emails, and that as a consequence three million emails had gone missing.
News UK, which publishes the Sun, had produced no payment forms signed by Mrs Brooks before the start of the trial in October, Mr Pharo told the court.
However she said that at a subsequent social function when he raised the issue of the missing forms with the Sun’s deputy managing editor, Richard Barun, Mr Barun had told him that he had completed forms in his office.
Subsequently, News UK produced some forms to the court, Mr Pharo said, but added: “A very small number of them.”
He said there had been decades of “chequebook journalism” in the UK and that all tabloid papers paid for stories. Cash payments were perhaps 5% of all contributor payments.
Mr Pharo, who has been suspended on full pay, told the court: “I would like to live in a country where people were motivated to call newspapers out of the goodness of their hearts, but that’s sadly not the case.”
Asked about payments to prison officers and police officers etc, he said he knew, in general, that the Sun paid public officials.
But he added that he did not know of any single identifiable public official in any story for which he had authorised a payment.
However, he told the jury, that had he known, he would have found some of the payments for which he is being tried justifiable because they were in the public interest.
These included the discovery of a large stash of heroin in a cell at Swaleside Prison.
Mr Pharo and his five co-accused – Graham Dudman, John Edwards, Ben O’Driscoll, Jamie Pyatt and John Troup – deny all charges.
This post originally appeared on the Hacked Off blog and is reproduced with permission and thanks