27 Feb 2012

The Sun accused of paying ‘network of corrupt officials’

The police officer leading the investigation into illicit payments by the Sun says there was a network of corrupt public officials receiving money, as Home Affairs Correspondent Andy Davies reports.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner (DAC) Sue Akers, who is in charge of the Metropolitan Police’s inquiries into phone hacking and corrupt payments, said payments had been made to officials in “all areas of public life”.

She said she was not talking about the “odd drink or meal”, but “sometimes significant” amounts of money, with one official paid around £80,000 over several years and a journalist receiving more than £150,000 to pay sources.

There also appears to have been a culture at the Sun of illegal payments and systems created to facilitate those payments. DAC Sue Akers, Metropolitan Police

Lord Justice Leveson was told there were investigations into “possible offences” of corruption, misconduct in public office and conspiracy.

Illegal payments

DAC Akers said a number of Sun employees, police officers, a Ministry of Defence official and a member of the armed forces had been arrested. She said: “It (the investigation) suggests payments were being made to public officials in all areas of public life. There also appears to have been a culture at the Sun of illegal payments and systems created to facilitate those payments.”

DAC Akers said journalists appeared to have been “well aware” that “what they were doing was unlawful”. She was speaking the day after News International published its first copy of the Sun on Sunday to replace the News of the World.

The inquiry began proceedings on Monday with a tribute to Sunday Times reporter Marie Colvin, who was killed in Syria last week. She was described by Lord Justice Leveson as an example of the “best in journalism”.

‘Sickened and disgusted’

At the high court in London, another News International newspaper was under scrutiny, with the singer Charlotte Church and her parents accepting £600,000 in damages and costs after her phone was hacked by the News of the World.

Speaking outside court, Ms Church said: “What I have discovered as the litigation has gone on has sickened and disgusted me. Nothing was deemed off limits by those who pursued me and my family, just to make money for a multinational news corporation.”

The Leveson inquiry was told that Scotland Yard had assured former Sun editor Rebekah Brooks in 2006 that it had no plans to extend its phone hacking investigation beyond royal reporter Clive Goodman, who was jailed for intercepting royal aides’ voicemail messages.

Lord Justice Leveson heard that Ms Brooks had been told other News of the World journalists would only be involved if “direct evidence” of wrongdoing was found.

Tom Crone, the News of the World’s head of legal, read from an email which said that police had told Ms Brooks they had uncovered evidence of more than £1m in payments by News International during the hacking investigation.

Neil Garnham QC, counsel for the Metropolitan Police, defended the decision not to widen the scope of the hacking investigation in 2006.

He said the original inquiry only had six officers and staff, while the new investigation, named Operation Weeting, had 90 people working on it.

‘Siren song’

Lord Blair, who was in charge of the Metropolitan Police from 2005 to 2008, said in a statement to the inquiry: “I believe that where the problem may have become significant is that a very small number of relatively senior officers increasingly became too close to journalists.

“Not, I believe, for financial gain, but for the enhancement of their reputation and for the sheer enjoyment of being in a position to share and divulge confidences. It is a siren song. I also believe that they based their behaviour on how they saw politicians behave, and that they lost sight of their professional obligations.”