The “power of The Sun” was recognised at the top levels of the army a government ‘spin doctor’ has testified in court. James Shelley, the head of public relations at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) told the jury at the trial of four journalists for the tabloid that the military used the paper to place “good news stories” about the armed services.
He said that he often lunched with the paper’s chief reporter, John Kay, whom he trusted as he was “pro-military, pro-army and pro the war”.
Shelley was giving evidence yesterday at the ninth day of the trial of four Sun journalists, an army officer and his wife, over allegations that reporters at the paper paid public officials for information. The civil servant also said that he often gave the paper quotes on background to be quoted as a “senior Whitehall source” and warned them when rival publications were chasing the same story they were working on.
The court was also told about the workings of the “D Notice” committee which oversees a voluntary code which operates between the Government departments which have responsibilities for national security and the media and advises the press over stories that the Government thinks may have an impact on national security.
The PR chief said he had never had to refer any pieces from The Sun to the body as their “bread and butter was the lower level stories, personnel issues”. One of the stories shown to the witness referred to an army officer who had “danced a naked conga” while another concerned drug taking in the forces.
Shelley was also asked about another journalist, Duncan Larcombe, who is also on trial. He testified that the reporter had been embedded with British soldiers in Afghanistan on three occasions and had always obeyed the protocols set by the military. He also revealed that Larcombe had been involved in training army officers on how to deal with the media in war zones, on a panel set up under “Chatham House Rules” which prevent any of the participants attributing any of the discussions that take place.
Asked how many journalists from other publications he would trust apart from the two Sun journalists facing charges Shelley replied “a very small minority of them”.
On trial are The Sun’s former chief reporter John Kay; deputy editor Geoffrey Webster; executive editor Fergus Shanahan; Royal editor Duncan Larcombe and the army officer and his wife John and Claire Hardy.
All of the defendants deny all of the charges, the trial continues