A Sun journalist was behaving responsibly when he paid a police officer for internal police witness statements and photographs, he told The Sun Six trial at Kingston Crown Court today.
District reporter Jamie Pyatt told Kingston Crown Court that the documentation he received from Surrey Police PC Simon Quinn was used sensitively in the public interest.
Among it were photographs of Antoni Imiela, questioned over the murder of Surrey schoolgirl Milly Dowler, and Terry Barnes, suspected of the knife attack which paralysed Surrey woman Abigail Witchalls – both later cleared.
There was also a photograph of suspected serial killer Daniel Gonzales and the statements of three female police officers who gave evidence about the behaviour of a constable accused of raping a member of the public.
Mr Pyatt, who denies conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office, agreed that he had paid PC Quinn for material on the four ongoing criminal investigations.
On Mr Imiela’s arrest, Mr Pyatt said:
“I had information that Mr Imiela was a frequent user of prostitutes in the Southampton and the Reading area and I was tasked to try and establish whether that was accurate, but without the photograph I was unable to do so. But with a photocopy of what he looked like I was able to visit those areas and establish whether what was said was true.”
The Sun headlined the story: “Did Beast Kill Milly?”
Mr Pyatt told the court: “Nothing confidential. Massive public interest.”
For another story, “Abi Suspect in Court,” Mr Pyatt obtained a photograph from PC Quinn, who – according to Mr Pyatt’s lawyer Richard Kovalevsky – also “accessed the crime report on three occasions.”
Mr Pyatt said: “I had not asked him to do that.”
Asked what he had requested of the PC, he said: “Information has come to my attention that there’s a major story on the Surrey patch and I would have asked him to get involved.
“I believe that Mr Quinn would have told me that he could obtain a photograph of the man believed to have paralysed Abi whilst she was pregnant and walking a small child in the woods. I would have made the newsdesk aware that a picture was made available and I subsequently did obtain a picture from PC Quinn.”
Asked whether he believed whether the picture was confidential, Mr Pyatt told the court: “Confidentially, I suppose essentially, would be secrecy.
“Is a picture of this man a secret? I don’t believe the image of anybody is a secret. I would also take into account whether I was putting anyone at risk by taking a picture of this man – and I don’t believe I was.”
Mr Pyatt also obtained from PC Quinn a photograph of the serial killer Daniel Gonzales shortly after his arrest. But, he told the court, he held off publishing the picture for two years, until Gonzales came to trial – in case his identity was an issue in the case.
The Sun published the picture at the end of Gonzales’ first aborted trial under the headline: “Four Deaths Maniac Yearned to be Famous.”
Mr Pyatt said:
“I do recall that the temptation was very large to use the picture. It was the first picture I believe of Gonzales but, acting responsibly, we were told that identity could possibly be an issue in the trial and the police asked us in the interest of justice not to publish.”
There was “huge” public interest in obtaining the picture, the reporter said.
“It was not confidential. It was an image. It was obtained in the public interest. I believe people have a right to see what this man looks like.”
On another occasion, Mr Pyatt, Thames Valley reporter, obtained the statements of three female police officers about the behaviour of a PC, Andrew Lang, who was accused, along with another police officer, of raping a drunken woman. The officers were convicted of misusing their office.
After their conviction, the Sun used the statements from “WPCs X, Y and Z” in its report, The Sex Predators Exposed: Sordid Life of Shamed Rape Case Cop.
Mr Pyatt told the court he had agreed with Pc Quinn only to use the statements at the end of the case, if there was a guilty verdict.
“As extraordinary as they were, having never read anything like this before, they were sub judice and to publish them at this stage would not be in the interests of justice and would not give Pc a chance of a fair trial,” Mr Pyatt said.
“The public interest was large. The court case was covered by every newspaper and TV and radio. I don’t think there’s ever been a case where a Pc has misbehaved so much with a member of the public.”
He denied a story about Eton College pupils drunkenly breaking into Windsor Castle had come from PC Quinn. Instead, the 51-year-old said, it was a tip-off from four sixth-formers at the public school who drank in a local bar. They were paid £1000.
Mr Pyatt said the boys would regularly supply him with stories about the school in return for cash. He told the court: “When they moved on they would pass my details on to new sixth-formers.”
The case continues.
This post originally appeared on the Hacked Off Blog and is reproduced with permission and thanks
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