UK tabloid had 'network of corrupt officials': police

27th February 2012, Comments 0 comments

Journalists at Britain's best-selling tabloid The Sun had a "network of corrupted officials" who provided them with stories in return for cash payments, a top police officer said Monday.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers told a public inquiry into press standards that the Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper had a "culture" of paying police, the military, health workers, government and prison staff.

In a statement, Murdoch conceded that such payments had existed but insisted: "The practices Sue Akers described at the Leveson inquiry are ones of the past, and no longer exist at The Sun."

Akers is leading Scotland Yard's bribery investigation, which has seen 10 current or former Sun journalists arrested since November, as well as a serving police officer, a Ministry of Defence worker and an army officer.

Updating the inquiry on its progress, she said: "There appears to have been a culture at The Sun of illegal payments, and systems have been created to facilitate those payments whilst hiding the identity of the officials receiving the money."

Murdoch, who shut down the tabloid's sister paper the News of the World over a phone-hacking scandal last year, has pledged his support for the title, launching a Sunday version of The Sun at the weekend.

He insisted on Monday: "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. That process is well underway."

Murdoch's company has settled dozens of claims brought by victims of hacking by the News of the World, including a £600,000 ($952,000, 710,000-euro) deal with singer Charlotte Church agreed on Monday.

But embarrassing details continue to emerge from the Leveson inquiry, which was set up after the hacking row to look at how the British press operate.

Speaking at the beginning of a new phase examining the ties between newspapers and the police, Akers updated the inquiry on her team's analysis of millions of emails provided by News Corp.

"Multiple payments have been made to individuals amounting to thousands of pounds," she said, adding: "There is also mention in some emails of public officials being placed on retainers."

Akers said the payments were "openly referred to" at The Sun and were approved "at a very senior level".

The recent arrests at The Sun concerned "the delivery of regular, frequent and sometimes significant sums of money to small numbers of public officials by a journalist", she said.

She cited one case involving more than £80,000 ($127,000, 94,000 euros) paid out over several years, and another where "one of the arrested journalists has over several years received over £150,000 in cash to pay his sources".

Akers said police were mindful of the right that journalists had to protect their sources when pursuing stories in the public interest.

But she said: "The vast majority of the disclosures that have been made have led to stories which I would describe as salacious gossip rather than anything that could be remotely regarded as in the public interest."

Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of The Sun and News of the World, admitted to lawmakers in 2003 "we have paid the police for information in the past", but last year she insisted she had never personally sanctioned any such a payment.

Brooks, who went on to be chief executive of News International, the publisher of The Sun and the News of the World, was arrested last year by police investigating phone hacking and bribery.

She had resigned shortly before her arrest, but denies any wrongdoing.

Scotland Yard's former deputy assistant commissioner Brian Paddick told the inquiry later that there was a "revolving door" between the police force and News International.

He noted that ex-police chief John Stevens and ex-assistant commissioner Andy Hayman worked for the company after retiring.

© 2012 AFP

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