A Sun journalist denied in court today that she attempted to discover the confidential tax affairs of a decorated war hero.
The court was shown a text from Clodagh Hartley, the paper’s Whitehall correspondent, to a member of staff at HMRC asking him to check a story that Victoria Cross winner, Johnson Beharry was facing bankruptcy. Hartley, 40, is on trial for allegedly conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office alongside the civil servant’s partner Marta Bukarewicz.
Cross-examined by prosecutor Zoe Johnson QC the journalist defended paying the civil servant to the jury saying that the Sun: “advertises on page two that we will pay for stories, people who came to us with information expected to be paid.”
The court has already been told that the HMRC press officer involved, Jonathan Hall, was paid over £14,000 over two years for a series of stories based on information he supplied to Hartley, including advance details of the 2010 budget.
During the cross-examination the Sun journalist defended her actions telling the court that she believed the stories she printed were in the public interest as they revealed information the government would try and suppress. The defendant said that government press officers routinely: “disguise, deflect, disrupt and delay,” queries from journalists and this situation was: “Taxpayers money is used for the suppression of news, in this case a newspaper’s money was revealing it.”
The journalist also told the court that, despite having a first class honours degree in media ethics she had been unaware that paying a public official was a criminal offence, “this was completely uncharted territory for me.” Told by prosecution counsel that “ignorance of the law is no defence,” Hartley replied: “I didn’t know it was illegal then, if I did do you think I would risk going to prison for stories in the Sun newspaper?”
The trial, which is expected to conclude this week, is one of three involving Sun journalists taking place in the Central Criminal court. Both of the defendants deny the charges.
This post originally appeared on the Hacked Off blog and is reproduced with permission and thanks
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