An HMRC source paid over £17,000 for confidential information by a Sun journalist claimed to have received a full copy of the budget. The prosecution told the jury that it was a “grubby relationship based on greed”.
A senior information officer in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs service, was paid over £17,000 by a Sun journalist for information a court was told today. This suggested, the prosecution said, that “Money was no object” for the daily tabloid.
A jury inn court 16 in the Old Bailey yesterday heard the prosecution open its case against Sun Whitehall correspondent Clodagh Hartley who is accused of conspiring with the civil-servant, Jonathan Hall, to gain access to confidential government financial information.
Opening the case prosecuting counsel Zoe Johnson QC told the court that this prosecution was: “not an attack on the freedom of the press” which she called a “vital component in a free a democratic society.” However, Johnson added, “with rights come certain obligations-one of which is to act in accordance with the law.”
Amongst the stories the prosecution say were sourced from the civil servant was a March 2010 exclusive headlined: “Don’t fudge it” which revealed on the morning of budget day that there was going to be a rise in fuel duty. Prosecuting counsel said: “As you would expect the budget is a closely guarded secret which should be announced in parliament and not broadcast in advance in the newspapers – certainly not for money.” The civil servant, the jury was told, was paid £750 for the leak.
Other Sun stories which the prosecution say Hartley sourced from Hall included “£20 billion black hole cheers” about a treasury party, “Feel the pain” about government cuts to child trust funds, “You ain’t seen cutting yet” about proposed cuts to prison service, and “Pen-pushers defy pay freeze with 2% hike” about a civil service pay rise.
Also in the dock is Marta Bukarewicz, Hall’s partner. The prosecution say that Bukarewicz assisted in the alleged conspiracy by agreeing to have the payments from the Sun for sent to her bank account before transferring them to the civil servant under the label “rent,” after deducting a portion for herself.
“This was no noble whistle-blowing relationship but a grubby relationship based on greed,” the prosecution barrister suggested.
Text messages shown to the court between Hall and Hartley also showed the journalist trying to track down information about the tax details of Johnson Beharry, a serving member of the armed forces who holds the Victoria Cross for bravery. The prosecution barrister suggested that this showed “No noble cause but the desire for a scoop.”
The prosecution showed the jury an August 2011 email between Hartley and another member of staff at the Sun in which she claimed to have received a copy of “the entire budget, the last Alistair Darling would deliver” adding that this would have been “potentially an award winning scoop” but the editor was “nervous of it.”
The jury was then shown a series of articles from the newspaper containing information, the prosecution say, was illegally obtained from a civil servant.
The series of eighteen stories read to the jury included one about the March 2010 budget which, prosecution barrister Zoe Johnson QC said, showed that confidential information about the chancellor’s proposals had been leaked to The Sun.
The Crown allege that the 2010 budget rise in fuel duty was leaked by an HMRC press officer Jonathan Hill in return for a £750 payment. The Sun ran the story on the morning of the budget itself leading to newspaper readers finding out about the tax rise before Parliament had been informed.
Other articles written by the defendant reveal details of ‘wasteful” government spending, complaints about taxpayer funded events for treasury staff and the then incoming coalition government’s plans to cut the deficit.
Also on trial is Hall’s partner Marta Bukarewicz who the prosecution say helped conceal payments from the Sun by having the routed via her bank account. Both defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office.
As there was no speech from the defence the court adjourned for the day until 11am on Tuesday 4 November.
Both of the defendants deny the charge, the trial continues.