A police officer contacted the Sun about footballer John Terry's mother and mother-in-law being arrested for shoplifting £1,450-worth of goods because he could not understand why they had not been charged, a court was told yesterday.
The tabloid's chief foreign correspondent Nick Parker said he was also "incredulous" that Terry's mother Susan Terry and mother-in-law Susan Poole were let off with a caution after they were caught at Brooklands shopping centre in Weybridge with a stash of clothes and food from Marks and Spencer and Tesco in March 2009.
Parker is on trial at the Old Bailey accused of aiding and abetting Alan Tierney to commit misconduct in a public office after the police officer emailed the newspaper about the incident in March 2009.
In his defence, 53-year-old father-of-two Parker jurors that his main aim as a journalist was to "seek out the truth and focus very squarely on the public interest".
Sources should be "protected at all costs" he said, and that was "enshrined" in the Press Complaints Commission.
He told jurors how he researched the front page splash on Terry's mother after a tip-off from an anonymous source whom he refused to name but who he said was not a police officer.
He went on try to stand the story up with Surrey Police press office and contact Terry's lawyer to give him the opportunity to comment.
Asked what had piqued his interest, he said: "I was incredulous as to why they had not been charged with theft offences because I just did not understand it. I had covered lots of stories where for far less, people were prosecuted and jailed."
After the first story was published, Pc Tierney emailed the Sun newsdesk with information that the total value of the goods, including a "horrid green tracksuit", was in fact £1,450 and not the £800 as had previously been thought, the court heard.
Asked about Pc Tierney's motivation, Parker said: "He wanted to set the record straight (about) the money, and to point out they were laughing and did not show any remorse.
"Also they were only cautioned. He said to me he could not understand it. He said that normally anything over £200 you would be prosecuted."
The court has heard that Tierney has pleaded guilty to criminality in relation to a follow-up story on the shoplifting incident and another one about Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood.
Earlier, Parker told the court how the Sun's newsdesk would make every practical decision at the newspaper and as a reporter "you cannot move without talking to the newsdesk".
His lawyer Trevor Burke QC asked: "In all your 26 years at the Sun and all the stories you covered, have any of the editors, news editors or lawyers given you any help or instruction on law relating to public officials?"
"At the time you were dealing with any public official in this case did you know that you may be doing something wrong?"
Parker repeatedly responded: "No."
He is also accused of paying a prison officer for stories and keeping MP Siobhain McDonagh's stolen phone overnight to check out its contents.
He is on trial at the Old Bailey alongside prison officer Lee Brockhouse, 44, and the man accused of stealing a phone, 30-year-old Michael Ankers.
Parker, of Twickenham, south-west London, denies three counts of aiding and abetting misconduct in public office, a count of handling stolen goods, and one of securing unauthorised access to computer material.
Brockhouse, of Sittingbourne, Kent, denies two counts of misconduct in public office, and Ankers, of no fixed abode, denies a count of theft, and handling stolen goods, relating to the mobile phone.
Later, Parker told jurors that he considered Brockhouse, who worked at HMP Swaleside in Kent, to be a "genuine whistle-blower".
Money was not his main motivation for his dealings with the Sun and "he was not the sort of guy who would make demands" about payment, Parker said.
He told jurors: "Lee was genuinely concerned about some of the things going on at Swaleside and he used me, he used the newspaper, to highlight these things.
"I always thought Lee was a genuine whistleblower, someone who in the true sense of the word wanted to expose things that were going wrong and wanted to get them aired because there was no under platform to do so."
As an anonymous source, Brockhouse would received cash payments which were authorised according to column inches in the newspaper.
Parker said: "That sum of money would have to be signed off directly by (editor) Rebekah Brooks."