openDemocracyUK

The Sun trials - Tuesday 23 and Thursday 24 - the police officer's role

What exactly did Officer 2044 do?

Martin Hickman
24 September 2015

Wikimedia/Jongleur100 CC 3.0Lady Justice, the Old Bailey.

Tuesday 22 September, 2015

Two senior journalists at the Sun had a "corrupt relationship” with a police officer who passed Britain’s biggest paper inside information about investigations for years, a court was told today.

Among the inside information provided were three witness statements from a rape inquiry, the jury at the Old Bailey in London heard.

The un-named officer also gave information about investigations into celebrities such as singer Mick Hucknall and TV presenter Chris Tarrant, and about murderers and rapists.

Sun news editor Chris Pharo and district reporter Jamie Pyatt are charged with aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office.

They deny the charges.

Their trial is expected to last four weeks.

Opening the case, Julian Christopher QC, for the Crown, said Mr Pyatt had paid the un-named police officer about £10,000 on 18 different occasions, between 2002 and 2011.

He said Mr Pharo had known about and approved many of the payments after assessing the worth of the stories printed in the paper.

“He is regularly involved in reviewing Mr Pyatt’s requests,” Mr Christopher said.

“Not once did he turn down the requests that Mr Pyatt is making or question whether it’s appropriate to pay a police officer.”

Mr Christopher told the jury: “It may be that that ultimate approval came from higher up than Mr Pharo.”

Outlining the help provided, the Crown’s QC said the police officer:

· Gave information about incidents and accessed the Police National Computer

· Handed over photos of a suspect

· Gave witness statements on an investigation he was involved with

· Provided addresses for victims and suspects in ongoing inquiries

· Checked facts to verify stories so that they could be printed

Mr Christopher said: “Effectively he became the Sun’s secret paid informant within Surrey police”.

The Crown was in no doubt that the officer’s motivation “was to make money”.

In all, the prosecution’s case was that the Sun paid the officer £11,050 between 2002 and 2011, though Mr Christopher pointed out the defence accepted that he had been paid only £8,800.

The court was run through the stories where the officer was alleged or accepted to have provided inside information to the Sun.

They included the handing of three witness statements in a rape complaint against two police officers to Mr Pyatt.

The Thames Valley reporter also received tip-offs and other assistance about celebrities who had been questioned or arrested by Surrey police, and about the suspects and victims of murders.

Three payments were made for information about the disappearance of 13-year-old Milly Dowler, according to the Crown.

Mr Christopher said the information had given the Sun “a competitive edge” over its Fleet Street rivals, and meant its stories and photographs were more likely to be labeled “exclusive.”

The Crown will give more details of the stories when it open its evidence tomorrow.

 

 

 

Wednesday 23 September

By Martin Hickman

A senior police officer was "incandescent with rage" when he found out the Sun had obtained a photograph of the prime suspect in a notorious crime, a court heard today.

Det Supt Adrian Harper told the Old Bailey that the identity of the suspect was the only piece of evidence that might convict the assailant of Abigail Witchalls.

Giving evidence at trial of two Sun journalists over payments to a police officer, the detective said he had wanted to hold an electronic identity parade at the hospital bedside of Mrs Witchalls, who was left paralysed from the neck down following her stabbing in Little Bookham, Surrey, in 2005.

Four days after his arrest, the Sun pictured the prime suspect, Terry Barnes, ahead of his court appearance for an unrelated charge in an article headlined: "Picture Exclusive: Abi suspect in court. Traveller faces burglary charge."

The Crown claims that Sun reporter Jamie Pyatt obtained the photo from a Surrey police constable as part of a longstanding "corrupt relationship" that spanned nine years.

He and Chris Pharo, the Sun's head of news, deny aiding and abetting misconduct in public office.

Detective Supt Harper, now retired, told the journalists’ trial that he had been told by Surrey police's press office that the editor of the Sun wanted to talk to him about a picture of Mr Barnes the paper wanted to publish.

He said he then spoke to a Sun reporter, Mike Sullivan, who asked him what impact publication might have on his investigation.

Asked his response to that discussion, Det Supt Harper said: "I was incandescent with rage. There I was dealing with a most horrific attack on a young mother in Surrey, to be put into a conversation with a newspaper about how I can manage my investigation."

The Sun agreed to delay publication of the photo until the police had been able to hold the identity parade for Mrs Witchalls.

Mr Barnes was cleared of the stabbing, which police have ascribed to a garden centre worker Richard Cazaly.

In later evidence, Mark Rowley, former assistant chief constable of Surrey, agreed with Mr Pyatt’s counsel Richard Kovalevsky, QC, that a police briefing stated there was no legal reason to prohibit publication of Mr Barnes’s picture after he had been released from custody, although he remain a suspect.

Mr Rowley, however, told the court identification could have been an issue in any court case and publishing the photo could have “significantly undermined” the investigation.

Although the police had negotiated delayed publication, officers would have preferred no publication at all, he added.

The case continues tomorrow.

 

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

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