The trial of four senior journalists, an army officer and his wife opened at the Old Bailey today with the prosecution telling the court “This trial is simply about greed”. In the glass fronted dock was John Kay, chief reporter at The Sun, two of the paper’s deputy editors, Fergus Shanahan and Geoffrey Webster and Duncan Larcombe the Royal editor.
Also in the dock was one of the newspaper’s sources, Scots Guards officer John Hardy and his wife Claire. All are charged in relation to, what the prosecution says, were leaks of confidential information from the army in return for large cash payments. Hardy received over £23,000 from the Sun while he was an instructor at Sandhurst, much of it “laundered” through his wife’s bank account.
Another civil servant, Bettina Jordan Barber received over £100,000 from the Sun with much of the payments authorised by the then editor of The Sun, Rebekah Brooks.
Michael Parroy QC, the lead prosecutor, told the packed court that he rejected the idea that the defendants were: “motivated by heartfelt and right minded indignation at some perceived injustice that needed public exposure,” adding “these were not “whistle blowers.” These were people who were motivated, quite simply, by greed. Self-enrichment was what they were seeking regardless of the cost to others personally and to the public good in general.”
The prosecution barrister also denied any suggestions that the trial was an “assault on the free press” telling the jury: “Nobody, and no organisation, in this country is above the law. The criminal law applies to journalists and newspapers just as much as the rest of us.” While accepting some of the stories published by The Sun could be perceived as being in the public interest most, he said, were “salacious tittle tattle” published purely to sell newspapers. Parroy also told the jury that The Sun also paid for details about fatalities suffered by military personnel in Afghanistan: “despite the inevitable personal grief that followed from such revelations.”
Parroy also showed the court emails between Kay and Rebekah Brooks where he asked for payment for that: “that belting exclusive splash about William’s major being killed by the Taliban,” to which she replied: ““brilliant scoop… of course on payments.” He asked the jury to consider that calling a: “tragic event in Afghanistan as a ‘belting exclusive splash’ by reason of a connection between the dead soldier and a member of the Royal family, perhaps speaks volumes as to the interest and motivation that was at play here.”
The prosecution barrister continued that there was a “culture of improper payments at The Sun” but the defendants: “never dreamed for a moment that their activities would ever see the light of day,” as: “they all felt confident that the journalistic screen of protecting sources would mean that what their behaviour would never have to be justified.”
Parroy said that the accused journalists “thought they could act with impunity and, in effect, were above the law or could break the law confident that they would never be found out. It is important to realise, we say, that the law applies to these defendants as surely as it does to everybody else.”
All of the defendants deny all of the charges, the trial continues.