The head of news at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs told an Old Bailey jury yesteday that a civil servant accused of selling information to The Sun newspaper was in charge of media relations at the HMRC’s “law enforcement desk.”
Paul Franklin said that his department would sometimes give stories exclusively to selected journalists “who had shown a particular interest in a subject” but this should never be done “for personal gain.”
On trial is Clodagh Hartley, a political correspondent for The Sun and Marta Bukarewicz the partner of former HMRC press officer Jonathan Hall. Both are accused of conspiring with Hall to “commit misconduct in a public office” over payments by The Sun for a series of stories the prosecution say were illegally leaked by Hall. The stories included a 2010 piece which revealed that the government was about to raise fuel duty before then then chancellor had given his budget speech in the House of Commons.
Further articles shown to the HMRC head of news included one about the 2010 emergency budget by George Osborne entitled “you ain’t seen cutting yet” which revealed details of the coalition’s plans to lower the deficit by spending cuts to the prison service, police and transport services and “1 in 10 get axe” about reductions in public sector staff numbers. The witness told the court that these kind of leaks could be damaging as, in his view, such information should be released “in a structured way” so as all departments involved could be prepared for queries from staff and the media about the issue.
“If government is to work properly information must be given at the appropriate time” the civil servant told the court and unauthorised leaks could lead to “huge distress to staff and to taxpayers.”
Both of the defendants deny the charges the trial continues.