The Sun bought everyone who might make an interesting story with “wheelbarrows of cash,” including public officials, the Crown’s lead prosecutor told the paper’s corruption trial today.
In his closing speech at Kingston Crown Court, Peter Wright QC, told the jury that all six current and ex-members of The Sun’s staff on trial had engaged at various points in a single conspiracy to bribe police and other officials.
The Sun’s former deputy news editor and now Daily Mail deputy news editor, Ben O’Driscoll, had made a “somewhat rueful” observation when he had given evidence during the two month trial, Mr Wright said.
He reminded them of what Mr O’Driscoll had said:
“In an ideal world, I’d want them to pass on the information voluntarily, but they were enticed at The Sun by a large wheelbarrow of cash.”
Mr Wright went on: “This observation was as insightful as it was acerbic. It may have been the expression of a man who having left The Sun and pursued his career elsewhere where payments for stories are not the order of the day may have had the scales lifted from his eyes. But it encapsulated, we say, everything that was wrong at this national newspaper during the period of this indictment.
The Sun’s “journalistic culture,” he said, involved the use of “wheelbarrows of cash to obtain stories, irrespective of the source.”
Mr Wright told the jury:
“It was a culture in which cash was king. Everything and everyone had a price. The story was all. The ends justified the means. If the story was newsworthy – and that spanned anything from an incident that gripped the nation to one that simply amused a section of it – if it was capable of being stood up, then it could be run irrespective of how the information validating the material had been obtained.”
Reporter Jamie Pyatt had hit the nail on the head, Mr Wright suggested, when he had emailed his newsdesk that his tipster at Broadmoor high security hospital was a “gold mine.”
Referring to the public officials on the indictment, and the breach of their duty to the public, Mr Wright said: “The lives and personal and tragedies of the public could be sold by a willing buyer… to a paper which could use the fig leaf of journalistic interest… to cover what we say was naked and venal conduct.”
He said: “We say there existed at The Sun a policy of payments to public officials in return for confidential information” – and that it was apparent in the “open way” that public officials were referred to in the paper’s emails and expenses claims.
He said that Mr Pyatt was “not a maverick journalist” when he pursued his own unlawful separate agreements with two officials – Surrey PC Simon Quinn and Broadmoor healthcare assistant Robert Neave – but part of the system.
Turning to Chris Pharo, The Sun’s news editor, Mr Wright asked the jury:
“Did Mr Pharo strike you as a shy and retiring type who could be manipulated by the journalists under his command? A man who avoided conflict… a man who waved through inflated and conflated requests for source payment?”
He questioned whether The Sun’s head of news had really been unaware that Mr Pyatt had a source in in Surrey police or a man at Broadmoor or that other Sun reporters had as their sources two police sources and a prison officer.
Mr Wright went on:
“Did he [Mr Pharo] really occupy a position of such responsibility and seniority and not know that no fewer than four of his journalists had such sources, each of whom was in email contact with him and seeking approval for payment from his for sources?”
He told the jury: “Chris Pharo knew. He sanctioned the payments…”
Mr Wright said it was inconceivable that Mr Pharo’s deputy, Mr O’Driscoll, had not known what was happening when he had received emails requesting money from Mr Pyatt for his Broadmoor contact and from another reporter – Journalist A – for her police contact.
Mr Wright told the court: “Ben O’Driscoll knew precisely what was going on – he was part of it. That’s why there’s no contradiction anywhere in these documents as to what was taking place.”
The prosecutor said that the case of The Sun’s picture editor John Edwards was particularly pertinent to the “tragedy” of the trial: the defendants were talented and hard-working individuals. But they did not as one character witness had said of Mr Edwards, the prosecutor said, have a “fully-functioning moral compass.”
Mr Wright told the court: “We say the evidence adduced by the prosecution speaks for itself and demonstrates that he [Mr Edwards] was aware of, and was party to, the culture of paying public officials at the Sun“.
Referring to Mr Pyatt’s requests to the picture editor for cash to pay his sources, Mr Wright said:
“There may be only four emails but involvement is not determined by a quantitative assessment of the evidence. It is determined by a qualitative assessment of the evidence. The four emails, we say, are reflective of that. They are redolent of the phraseology of the complicit.”
Turning to Graham Dudman, Mr Wright said The Sun’s former managing editor had treated the court to “a discourse on the irrelevant” in an attempt to wriggle out of his approval of bribery.
When he had paid a police officer for information about two police officers under suspicion for serious offences on the Soham murder inquiry, Mr Wright said, Mr Dudman had entered into the conspiracy.
He told the jury: “Keep your eye on the all. This was not whistleblowing… it was naked profiteering with a customer able and willing to pay.”
Mr Wright said that the sixth defendant, John Troup, had entered into an agreement to pay a serving prison officer for information about a death in custody at a Category A prison.
“It was a request for payment that he made… that Graham Dudman agreed to,” Mr Wright said “His contact, his story, his patch.”
He suggested Mr Troup had exhibited “selective amnesia” when he had not mentioned in his statement to the court matters that he could remember later when it suited his defence. “We say this is not a product of amnesia, but a man… trying to tailor his case.”
Ending his speech at 1.10pm, Mr Wright said of the six journalists: “They are each guilty of the offences with which they are charged… consequently in due course we invite you to return verdicts of guilty in each of their cases.”
All the defendants deny conspiring to commit misconduct in public office. The case continues.
Rebekah Brooks “We Have Paid The Police For Information.”