'Culture of illegal payments at Sun,' police chief tells Leveson

Feb 27, 2012
Jonathan Harwood

Sensational new claims could explain why Sunday edition of the paper was rushed out so fast

THE DAY after News International launched the Sun on Sunday the company is facing sensational new claims at the Leveson Inquiry that the paper routinely and illegally paid police and public officials.

The revelations came from Sue Akers (above), of the Met Police, who is leading Operation Elveden, an investigation into allegations of corruption at News International.

She told the inquiry that there was a "culture of illegal payments" at the paper and that one public official had received £80,000 from The Sun. Others may have been placed on "retainers", while a single journalist had paid out more than £150,000 to his sources over the years.

And there was more miserable news for the Murdoch empire as the inquiry counsel, Robert Jay, read out a memo from News of the World legal manager Tom Crone, written in 2006, which indicated that the paper's editor Andy Coulson was aware that private investigator Glen Muclaire had been paid more than £1m and had hacked hundreds of phones.

Coulson, who went on to become David Cameron's director of communications before quitting under pressure in January last year, has always denied knowing anything about hacking while he was at the paper, and even made the claim while under oath during a court case in Scotland.

To make matters worse, over at the High Court today details of the payout to singer Charlotte Church, who was targeted by the NotW, have emerged. She has been paid £600,000 in damages and costs after her voicemails were intercepted over a number of years and the paper "unlawfully obtained" medical information about her and her mother.

The news comes after the Sun on Sunday got a lukewarm reception from media observers, many of whom found it bland and boring.

Today's developments appear to give credence to an intriguing report in the Independent on Sunday yesterday, which claimed Murdoch's new Sunday paper had been rushed out to beat the latest allegations. "Insiders say that the launch of The Sun on Sunday... was brought forward because to launch a new paper in the wake of fresh revelations [due this week] would be virtually impossible," claimed the paper.

Akers's evidence was certainly damning. She said the allegations were "not ones involving the odd drink or meal". Rather, they involved "the delivery of regular, frequent and sometimes significant sums of money to small numbers of public officials by journalists".

She spoke about a "network of corrupted officials" and added: "There appears to have been a culture at the Sun of illegal payments, and systems have been created to facilitate such payments whilst hiding the identity of the officials receiving the money."

Akers claimed in her statement that journalists knew that the payments were illegal but "the authority level for such payments to be made is provided at a senior level within the newspaper".

That could have serious ramifications for News International's parent company in America, News Corporation. According to The Guardian, it "could face fines of hundreds of millions of dollars unless it can show it has co-operated vigorously with the authorities in rooting out malpractice".

Shortly after she finished giving evidence Murdoch issued a statement that insisted: "The practices Sue Akers described at the Leveson inquiry are ones of the past, and no longer exist at the Sun."

Sign up for our daily newsletter