Flickr/ Aaron Fulkerson. Some rights reserved.Thursday 24 September, 2015
Rupert Murdoch's newspaper group prompted a Scotland Yard investigation into payments by one of its own papers because it wanted to escape a corporate prosecution for corruption, the Sun trial heard today. Giving evidence at the trial of two Sun journalists accused of corrupting a police officer, Detective Supt Mark Kandiah said that News International handed over material about payments on the assumption that its co-operation would ensure it avoided court.
Gerson Zweifach, general counsel at NI's parent company, News Corp, had warned detectives that a corporate prosecution of its UK subsidiary could "kill the corporation." Instead, News International handed over material that led to Chris Pharo, the Sun's news editor, and Jamie Pyatt, Thames Valley reporter, sitting in the dock of the Old Bailey.
They deny aiding and abetting misconduct in public office over more than £8,000 cash paid to a constable with Surrey police.
Tracing the evolution of Operation Elveden, the Met's inquiry into newspaper payments to public officials, Court 13 heard that News International supplying information prompted its establishment in June 2011. At that time Elveden was investigating whether the royal editor of Murdoch's scandal-hit Sunday paper, the News of the World, had paid one of the Queen's bodyguards for royal phone directories.
However, Mr Kandiah, senior investigating officer for Operation Elveden, told the court that in October or November 2011 News International's Management and Standards Committee, which was set up to co-ordinate the company's response to the phone hacking scandal, handed over information about payments by its daily paper, the Sun. Scotland Yard then began to investigate payments by Britain's best-selling newspaper.
Mr Kandiah, who has since retired, told Court 13: "There was no interest in the Sun newspaper prior to that." At one stage, the detective said, 70 officers on Operation Elveden were investigating 100 suspects, agreeing with Nigel Rumsfitt QC that that was about double the number of officers usually on a murder inquiry.
Asked by Mr Rumsfitt whether the police were "dependent" on NI's Management and Standards Committee as to what material was handed over, the detective replied: "Yes... what they chose to bring to us." Mr Kandiah added, however, that detectives could direct which information was sought - and decide which lines of inquiry to pursue. He agreed that News International's co-operation stemmed from its concern that it would be prosecuted as a corporate body.
"One of the biggest concerns that was expressed in meetings at which you were present was that News International was worried that what was going on in relation to Operation Elveden might lead to a corporate prosecution?", Mr Rumsfitt, for Mr Pharo, asked.
Mr Kandiah replied: "That's correct." When pressed by the lawyer, "They assumed they would not be prosecuted if they co-operated?" Mr Kandiah told the court: "They said they had been working under that assumption."
The court heard that in May 2012 Sue Akers, Met Assistant Commissioner, wrote to News International notifying it that it might be prosecuted. After that News International changed its approach, Mr Kandiah said, becoming less co-operative – and responding to Scotland Yard's requests for information only when it received a court order. A Metropolitan Police memo recorded the view of Gerson Zweifach, News Corp's general counsel, about the risk a corporate prosecution posed. He was noted as saying: "It could kill the corporation and 46,000 jobs would be in jeopardy."
The case continues.
See openDemocracyUK's full series on the Sun trials here.