Sun investigations editor Brian Flynn is bowing out after 20 years at the paper with an impassioned defence of press freedom and a parting shot for Met Police commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe.
Flynn has decided to take voluntary redundancy and leaves the paper after a career which has included spells as a reporter, night news editor, New York correspondent and National Lottery correspondent Sir Lenny Lottery.
In a message to colleagues and friends posted on Facebook, Flynn said: “When I think of the incredible things I've had the chance to see and do at the paper, and – more importantly – the ridiculously talented and committed people I've had the good fortune to work with and against, I feel like the luckiest guy alive.
“I went into journalism because I wanted to see things. Ever since I was ten, all I ever wanted to do was work for The Sun. I used to say that if I ever walked into the newsroom there as a staff reporter for just one day, I'd die happy.
“Well it was considerably longer than that in the end, and sometimes I shake my head in disbelief at the things I've witnessed and the ludicrous (and occasionally dangerous) situations I've found myself in over that time.”
Flynn said that over his career at the paper he’s visited more than 30 countries, had tea with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, infiltrated baby-selling drug gangs in Czech Republic and dived with sharks in Barbados.
He said: “The Sun has offered me an access-all-areas pass that I couldn't have got anywhere else. My enduring image will be watching the Twin Towers disintegrate in front of my eyes in Manhattan on 9/11.
“It was the most appalling day of my career and yet as a result of experiencing first hand what happened and the aftermath, I feel I understand more about the world and why things have unfolded the way they have – for good or ill – in the years that followed.”
He said his only regret is that “many of my friends and colleagues were caught in the political web that was Operation Elveden, and had to suffer the 6am knock on the door and years of appalling injustice that followed”.
Some 29 journalists were charged with misconduct in public office offences under Operation Elveden over payments to public officials. Only two convictions currently stand and only one journalists was convicted at trial, Sun reporter Anthony France who is appealing.
Flynn said: “A free country relies on a free press. A non-conformist, diverse, raucous, brash, non-compliant, outrageous press prepared to challenge boundaries and, yes, occasionally find itself on the wrong side of them.
“A press that you don't agree with all the time. A press that does things that make you uncomfortable and are, in fact, sometimes unpalatable.
“Genuinely supporting a free press is like being a meat eater having to deal with how a sausage is made. You'd prefer not to think about it, and it probably tastes better if you don't, but whether you like it or not you can't have the product without the process.
“Well, I've discovered over the past quarter of a century that journalism's a messy business. In real life (as opposed to university lecture theatres and theory books), it's not always black and white, and the best investigative journalism – the most important stuff – is often done in the grey areas. So be it.
“Journalists operating in those areas deserve our support. Rather that than the alternative.
“We need more press freedom, not less. Everywhere we look, politicians and police chiefs are doing all they can to create and impose laws that restrict our right to know and protect the comfortable secrecy in which they like to operate, and in which corruption and exploitation flourishes.
“Never let them tell you it's in your interests to curb the press.”
He added: “Those in power don't want journalists turning over stones and shining a light underneath to see what crawls out. It's inconvenient, and a threat to their grip on the levers of power.
“I've seen first hand the sacrifices that many of the brilliant journalists in this country have made at the altar of a free press. We're not perfect. Not by a long stretch. But never let anyone persuade you that it is important for journalists to know their place.
“A free society relies on journalists who do not know their place, who do not kow-tow to authority, refuse to give up in the face of pressure or intimidation (internal or external), and brave the frontline – both literal and metaphorical – to tell you what is actually happening, as opposed to what the people in power want you to believe is happening.”
Flynn paid tribute to the many juries who returned not guilty verdicts on Operation Elveden charges brought against journalists and who “understood what journalists had been doing in their name”.
He added: “Hearing Met Police commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe recently describe their verdicts as ‘odd’ shows you that those in power still don't get it, or don't want to.”
Flynn said he had taken to the decision to leave in order to spend more time with his wife and children and take on new challenges. His last day at The Sun will be 8 April. He tweets @brianaflynn.