The Sun came out fighting this morning with a strongly worded condemnation of the “quite extraordinary assumption of power” by the police during inquiries which have seen 30 journalists “needlessly dragged from their beds in dawn raids”.
The page 12 comment piece from associate editor Trevor Kavanagh comes two days after five more of The Sun’s most senior journalists were arrested by Met police officers investigating the bribery of public officials.
Eight people were held in dawn raids on Saturday morning including five journalists: Sun deputy editor Geoff Webster, long-serving chief reporter John Kay, chief foreign reporter Nick Parker, picture editor John Edwards and deputy news editor John Sturgis.
The arrests came two weeks after officers from the same Operation Elveden corruption inquiry arrested and questioned Sun head of news Chris Pharo, crime reporter Mike Sullivan, former deputy editor Fergus Shanahan and former managing editor Graham Dudman.
All those questioned have yet to be charged with anything but remain on police bail.
The others arrested on Saturday were said to be an army major, an MoD employee and a police officer.
News International chief executive Tom Mockbridge said on Saturday in a statement: “I have had a personal assurance today from Rupert Murdoch about his total commitment to continue to own and publish The Sun newspaper” and he said he had written to the Independent Police Complaints Commission to seek clarification about the level of independent oversight of the police probe.
Kavanagh’s comment piece today opens with the words: “The Sun is not a ‘swamp’ that needs draining” – in a direct attack on the News Corp Management and Standards Committee which has been cooperating with police on inquiries. Saturday’s arrests are thought to have stemmed from analysis of a huge cache of historic emails which the MSC has handed over to police and which, with the the police, it is analysing.
When four Sun journalists were arrested two weeks ago on evidence handed over by the MSC, an un-named MSC source briefed journalists that the process was akin to “draining the swamp”.
Kavanagh said today that journalists are being treated like “members of an organised crime gang”, noting that the three police probes into press phone-hacking, computer hacking and bribes involve 171 officers working on what he said is the biggest British police operation in criminal hiistory.
Kavanagh asks why the 30 journalists arrested so far in the three probes have been “needlessly dragged from their beds in dawn raids”, held in cells and had their homes “ransacked” – rather than simply being called in for questioning.
He said that wives and children have been humiliated as police have ripped up floorboards and sifted through private possessions at the homes of journalists.
And in a “quite extraordinary assumption of power”, Kavanagh said that police have been able to impose bail conditions like those applied to suspected terrorists.
These include banning journalists from speaking to each other.
Kavanagh writes: “When police get matters so far out of proportion, we are entitled to ask: Who polices the police?”
According to Kavanagh many of those arrested have done no more than “act as journalists have acted on all newspapers throught the ages, unearthing stories that shape our lives, often obstructed by those who prefer to operate behind closed doors.”
“These stories sometimes involve whistleblowers. Sometimes money changes hands. That has been standard practice as along as newspapers have existed, here and abroad.”
In another possible veiled attack on News Corp and the MSC, Kavanagh writes: “Some of the greatest legends in Fleet Street have been held, at least on the basis of evidence, for simply doing their jobs as journalists on behalf of the company.”