News Corp.’s Sun newspaper had a “culture” of corrupt payments to public officials and paid one source more than 80,000 pounds ($127,000), the police officer in charge of probes into bribery and phone hacking said.
“The journalists had a network upon which to call at various strategic places across public life,” Metropolitan Police Service Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers told a judicial inquiry into media ethics in London today. “There appears to have been a culture of illegal payments and facilitating ways of hiding those payments.”
Akers testified the day after News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch attempted to move on from the phone-hacking scandal by publishing a Sunday edition of the Sun to replace the shuttered News of the World tabloid. Ten Sun journalists have been arrested in the investigation into corrupt payments to police officers and other public officials.
Akers said one journalist on the paper had claimed 150,000 pounds in cash “to pay to his sources, a number of whom were public officials.” Such payments had been authorized at “a very senior level.”
Murdoch said that the practices described by Akers were “of the past and no longer exist at the Sun.”
“As I’ve made very clear, we have vowed to do everything we can to get to the bottom of prior wrongdoings in order to set us on the right path for the future,” Murdoch said in an e-mailed statement.
Robert Jay, a lawyer for the inquiry, said the public feared the relationship between the police and News Corp.’s U.K. newspapers was “at best inappropriately close, and if not actually corrupt was very close to it.”
Akers said the investigation had been able to link the payments to specific stories, which were generally “salacious gossip, rather than anything that could be regarded as in the public interest.” Payments may have been made to soldiers, Ministry of Defense officials and other public servants, as well as police officers, Akers said.
Some journalists on the Sun have criticized the police and judicial probes, with columnist Trevor Kavanagh writing an article in the newspaper suggesting press freedom was under threat. Murdoch traveled to London to calm staff fears and start the Sun on Sunday. The first edition of the newspaper sold 3 million copies.
‘Pie and a Pint’
“We’re not talking about journalists buying a copper a pie and a pint,” Neil Garnham, a lawyer representing London’s Metropolitan Police, told the inquiry.
Earlier, Jay said that the former chief executive officer of News Corp.’s U.K. publishing unit, Rebekah Brooks, was given a briefing on the state of a police investigation into phone-hacking at the News of the World tabloid in 2006 while the probe was continuing.
Brooks was editor of The Sun at the time. Afterwards she spoke to Tom Crone, the News of the World’s lawyer, who sent Andy Coulson, the News of the World’s editor, an e-mail summarizing what she was told, Jay said.
The briefing included information that the police had identified more than 100 phone-hacking victims, and were confident they would be able to convict the News of the World reporter, Clive Goodman, and private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, whom they had already arrested. It also revealed they’d identified more than 1 million pounds of payments from News Corp. to Mulcaire.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission said Feb. 24 that it had begun investigating a senior officer in relation to “an allegation of inappropriate disclosure of information” to a News Corp. executive.
Until early 2011, the company insisted phone hacking had been limited to Goodman and Mulcaire. Brooks and Coulson have both been arrested in the police probe into hacking. No one has been charged.
Coulson, who resigned from the News of the World in 2007 after Goodman and Mulcaire had pleaded guilty, later worked for Conservative Party leader David Cameron, who was then in opposition. He moved into government when Cameron became prime minister in 2010 and stepped down at the start of 2011.
Former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott criticized the initial police investigation, saying police informed him that they had no evidence his voice mails were accessed. Prescott settled a phone-hacking suit last month against News Corp. for 40,000 pounds.
“I thought the most important thing was the role of the police,” Prescott told the inquiry today, referring a judicial review he instigated. “That’s why I pursued them.”