The jury in the Sun Six trial will retire to consider its verdicts later today or Wednesday morning, the judge told Kingston Crown Court yesterday. Judge Richard Marks QC told the 12 jurors in the case that he was half way through his summing up.
Six current or former Sun journalists – including three current executives on Britain’s best-selling daily paper – deny conspiring to commit misconduct in public office.
After listing seven key issues in the case, Judge Marks outlined the thrust of the prosecution and defence.
A “snapshot” of the prosecution case was that there was a culture of corruption at The Sun where it was considered perfectly acceptable to pay cash to public officers, provided the story provided good copy and the paper was not sued for libel.
It was “manifestly serious misconduct”, the Crown had warned, for police officers to divulge confidential information gleaned during the course of their employment, sometimes from the Police National Computer – and to be profiting from their position by getting cash backhanders in addition to their salary.
Similar considerations, the prosecution had added, applied to medical staff at Broadmoor psychiatric hospital and to prison officers.
It would have taken only a moment’s consideration for the journalists to appreciate “the corrosive effect” on public trust in officials who were on the take,” the judge said the prosecution had alleged, adding: “They submit any defence based on public interest is entirely illusory.”
Putting the defence arguments, Judge Marks said: “They say none of the stories were confidential and it was inevitable the details would get into the public domain.
“Public interest in these stories was huge.”
Judge Marks told the jurors: “They say the systemic corruption, which the prosecution contend, is patently not the case when the sums… are numerically tiny when considering the paper’s budget and the number of stories published.”
He added that the defendants considered that News Corporation was “rotten to the core” because its Management Standards Committee had handed over partial information about them and their sources to the police, throwing them “to the wolves” in an attempt to save itself.
On many occasions the journalists “didn’t read or notice” emails about payments to public officials, the defence QCs had pointed out, and “none of defendants knew they were involved in a criminal conspiracy.”
The judge summarized the individual cases against the defendants, beginning with Jamie Pyatt, the paper’s veteran Thames Valley reporter.
Mr Pyatt, the judge recalled, had told the trial that the public had “a massive right to know what’s going on,” particularly in Broadmoor, which housed the most dangerous people in society who had committed the gravest crimes.
The reporter’s case was that News International, which owned The Sun, had told him and other reporters that if police officers “approached us with a story that was in the public interest that was OK, because we hadn’t approached them.”
The judge said his position was: “No-one at the paper ever challenged me about requests to pay public officers.”
Mr Pyatt admitted that he had lied to the police when he said he had never paid police officers, in an attempt to protect his sources, and had told the court: “With hindsight, I should have gone no comment.”
The judge interposed the views of prosecution witnesses about the impact of stories leaked by public officials in return for cash from Mr Pyatt.
Dr Richard Murray, head psychiatrist at Broadmoor, the judge reminded the jury, had said that the leaks had undermined staff and patient trust and made difficult people even harder to treat.
Turning to Chris Pharo, The Sun’s head of news, the judge said that his case was that when he replied to Mr Pyatt’s emails asking for payment “he gave very little thought to the source of his stories.”
The newsroom had been extremely busy and the editor, Rebekah Wade, while charming and charismatic, “could be extremely rude and abusive.”
Mr Pharo had estimated that only 5 per cent of cash payments had been to public officials. He had thought all the Broadmoor stories were in the public interest because The Sun’s readers had a right to know what was going on in the institution.
Mr Pharo had said that while on occasion he did think payments to public officials could be justified, such as the time when the Sun proved soldier Matty Hull had been killed by friendly fire, he did not know the source of individual stories. Journalists tended “to big themselves up” when referring to their sources and “police contact” did not mean police officer. Journalists’ expenses were as factual “as the Lord of the Rings”.
Mr Pharo had not accepted that a story about potential terrorism targets in London had compromised any police operations.
The judge recalled the evidence of Detective Superintendent Marshall Kent from the Met’s Special Operations counter-terrorism command, who said the police would not have broadcast information in a Sun front page about an imminent terror risk.
Information about the specific police response time to an outrage could “allow terrorists to factor that into their attack plan” and “the naming of three locations as targets could validate them as good targets,” the officer had said.
Judge Marks is continuing his summing up today.