openDemocracyUK

The Sun trials: Thursday 8th October: The defence make their case

openDemocracy is been bringing daily coverage of the trial of Sun journalists charged with aiding and abetting misconduct in public office by paying a police officer for information. Here's Thursday's report.

Martin Hickman
8 October 2015
sun trial first picture.jpg

Flickr/ Ronnie Macdonald. Some rights reserved.Jurors should "weigh" the public interest in having a free and diverse press when considering whether to brand journalist Jamie Pyatt "a criminal," his lawyer told the Sun trial today.

Making his closing speech at the Old Bailey, Richard Kovalevsky, QC, said the Crown had deliberately avoided defining the public interest when setting out the case against the Sun reporter for paying a police officer for information.

Yet the public interest was the vital test that jurors would have to consider when deciding whether Mr Pyatt's behaviour was "so awful" it reached the high thresh-hold of criminality, Mr Kovalevsky told Court 13.

The lawyer was making his speech at the third week of the trial of Mr Pyatt, the Sun's Thames Valley reporter, and Chris Pharo, Sun's Assistant Editor (News), for aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office.

The charge relates to a Surrey police constable, Officer 2044, paid £10,000 in cash by Mr Pyatt for providing information or photographs for stories at least times between 2002 and 2011.

In the last of the three closing speeches, Mr Kovalevsky told jurors that the case was "essentially a balance" between the poor conduct of Officer 2044 (whom he called "Officer A") on the one hand and the public interest on the other.

He said: "Everybody in this court, everybody in this country has a right... to receive information.

"What the prosecution are doing is saying: 'Members of jury we are going to say' – because the onus is upon them – 'that the hurt to the public interest as a result of what Officer A did is greater than your right to receive that information'."

Mr Kovalevsky complained the Crown's lawyer, Julian Christopher, QC, had tried to "shoulder-barge" his client into providing information or photographs for stories... between 2002 and 2011.

On his feet for two hours, Mr Pyatt's QC told the jurors: "You have to decide what is that the public could be interested in that wasn't in the public interest... It's an almost infinitesimally small distinction."

There was a public interest in the free and diverse press, he added, with all kinds of newspapers appealing to all kinds of audiences, so that people could understand "what the hell's going on in life" – which was in the public interest.

Raising the expenses scandal, Mr Kovalevsky requested jurors turn their minds back to what they thought when they read about an MP building a duck pond or cleaning a moat. He asked: "Did you think: 'That's outrageous – we shouldn't know that?'".

Other journalists being acquitted in cases brought under Operation Elveden, the Metropolitan Police inquiry into payments by newspapers to public officials, did not help this jury one bit because they were trying this case on the facts, he pointed out.

He added: "But you may think the prosecution team, through the Elveden experience, know what juries' reactions have been to this problem with the public interest. 

"So like all wise combatants, like all wise generals, they march their armies into a timeline."

Stating the judge's legal directions [to be issued on Monday] made it clear there was no definition of the public interest, Mr Kovalevsky told jurors: "It's whatever you think it is."

"It's in the public interest to have a press that works," he added.

The QC said he was not going to go into the tabs of evidence in the jury bundles - because by now jurors would be familiar with all the evidence in the case, but he said Officer 2044 had disclosed information to a journalist "who's not a rogue, who's following the code, who's not jeopardising any [police] inquiry..."

The information was about "vital stories" – about Milly Dowler, the "Trophy Rapist" Tony Imiela and the "Freddy Krueger killer" Daniel Gonzalez.

Mr Pyatt had approached a rape complainant because he wanted to know what she thought about a jury disbelieving her (what would jurors think if a female relative had been similarly disbelieved? asked the lawyer).

Looking directly at the jurors, Mr Kovalevsky went on: "Mr Pyatt himself – what do you make of him? Our submission to you is that on the evidence he's not told you a lie and ultimately he's a good bloke.

"His neighbours have come out in force and said he's a good bloke. Not only that, it seems he is a good bloke.

The jury had heard the character witnesses, the barrister said.

Mr Pyatt had helped a girl with terminal cancer visit Disneyland and had kept the hunt for the killer of teenager Hannah Foster in the public eye - which eventually led to her killer being captured in India.

"What sort of man are you dealing with?" Mr Kovalevsky asked. "A wrong 'un, a rogue?".

Mr Pyatt, he said, was "not a wrong 'un [but] a man of exemplary character." And yet the jury were being asked to say his behaviour was "so awful and he's damaged the public interest to such an extent that he's a criminal."

He appealed to the dozen jurors: "After four years, could you stop this?"

Judge Charles Wide will sum up the case on Monday.

 

See openDemocracyUK's full series on the Sun trials here.

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