openDemocracyUK

The Sun trials: Wednesday 7th October: "an unscrupulous company shopping its own employees"

openDemocracy has 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 Wednesday's report.

Martin Hickman
8 October 2015
TRIALS.jpg

Demotix/ Terry Scott. All rights reserved.A lawyer for a senior executive of the Sun newspaper today asked the jury at his trial whether Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper group was trying to cover up the truth about its payments to public officials.

Nigel Rumfitt QC, barrister for Sun Assistant Editor (News), told the Old Bailey that the fallout from the News of the World hacking scandal had threatened to crumble Mr Murdoch's US holding group News Corp, with the loss of 46,000 jobs.

In a "desperate" attempt to save its own skin, he told the court, its British subsidiary News International had handed information on journalists below editor level to the Metropolitan Police in the hope of avoiding a corporate prosecution.

However, Mr Rumfitt complained, the documents passed to detectives contained only a fraction of the paperwork on cash payments signed by Rebekah Brooks, then editor of the Sun and now chief executive of News UK, News International's new brand name.

Making his closing speech for Mr Pharo, on trial over payments to a police officer who supplied information to the Sun, Mr Rumfitt complained that his client had been "blamed for misconduct way above him at that newspaper.”

He told the jury: “Someone removed all the aces, kings and queens in case they engage corporate responsibility."

Mr Pharo, 46, and the Sun’s Thames Valley reporter Jamie Pyatt, 52, deny aiding and abetting misconduct in public officer over the payment of about £10,000 cash to a Surrey police officer between 2002 and 2011.

Mr Rumfitt reminded the jury that the Sun’s newsdesk assistant, Charlotte Hull, had testified at an earlier trial at Kingston Crown Court that, while editor of the Sun, Mrs Brooks had signed “hundreds” of authorization forms for cash payments.

As well as that three million emails had been deleted on Mrs Brooks's orders, meaning other paperwork was missing, Mr Rumfitt complained.

He reiterated to jurors that Mr Pharo had only “priced” Mr Pyatt’s requests for cash for the Surrey constable, before passing the requests up the line to the editor or deputy editor for approval.

Yet the former news editor turned assistant editor was in court, Mr Rumfitt said, because “an unscrupulous company has decided the best way to save its own skin is by shopping its own employees.”

He told the jury: “News International mistakenly believed that if it ingratiated itself with the police it could somehow avoid corporate charges."

However, he lamented, the information handed to Scotland Yard's Operation Elveden into payments by journalists to public officials had been partial.

Only three requests for cash payments signed and approved by Mrs Brooks had been presented to the court.

Mr Rumfitt asked the 12 jurors: “Do you think she only ever signed two or three of those? The evidence of Miss Hull was that she must have signed hundreds of them.

“So where are they? 

“Where is the material that shows how the editor came to authorise the payments you are concerned with?”

Mr Rumfitt asked: “Where are the emails?” 

“Three million emails were deleted on Rebekah Brooks's orders. I wonder why...

“The memos, the paperwork, that went with these documents – all gone.”

Mr Rumfitt asked: “It couldn't just be, could it, that there’s been another cover-up at News International?"

He labeled Operation Elveden “the longest running farce in London,” complaining that it had double the number of detectives of a typical murder inquiry.

He told the court that Mr Pharo did not know the identity of Officer 2044 and did not have any direct contact with him.

The charges related to payments to him between 2002 and 2011 yet Mr Pharo had not been involved “until at least 2006 and, possibly, 2009.” 

If the misconduct had happened before then, Mr Rumfitt told the jury, “you can't aid and abet a crime after it's happened.”

Outlining what he said was the reality of the tabloid, the QC said reporters routinely exaggerated the source of their emails, and sometimes claimed to be paying police officers.

“It's source-boosting,” he said.

“It’s designed to catch the editor's eye. For that reason he [Mr Pharo] didn't take these emails seriously.”

In any case, Mr Pharo’s job was not to identify wrongdoing in the newsroom.

“It's not his job to work out whether some sort of impropriety has gone on, it's not his job to police the newsroom... his job is to price the story."

Mr Rumfitt concluded: “We say that Chris Pharo has been prosecuted and had his life put on hold, if not wrecked, over the past three and a half years because no-one has ever bothered to find out what his job properly was in relation to cash payments at the Sun."

The lawyer said jurors could end his client’s torment by acquitting him.

 

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

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