Sun six trial told of 'casual corruption to feed insatiable hunger for exclusives' - Press Gazette

Sun six trial told of 'casual corruption to feed insatiable hunger for exclusives'

Sun news editor Chris Pharo was "instrumental" in paying public officials for a "morbid, gripping, and outrageous" leaks, the prosecutor said as he made his final summing up in the Sun six trial.

Pharo, alongside five colleagues – managing editor Graham Dudman, 51, ex-deputy news editor Ben O'Driscoll, 38, picture editor John Edwards, 50, and reporters Jamie Pyatt, 51, and John Troup, 49 – is accused of paying public officials for stories.

He said Pharo was not "shy and retiring' as he had been portrayed in court, but a central part of the The Sun's newsroom operation.

Wright said four of the reporters had emailed Pharo about paying public officials for information.

"Did Chris Pharo strike you as a shy and retiring type who could be manipulated by the journalist?", he asked.

"A man who took the line of least resistance, a man who found it hard to refuse the request of his staff, a man who waved through fictitious or inflated requests for payment, a man ignorant of a culture of payment at The Sun to public officers.

"Why would the head of news be kept in the dark?

"Why would it be he would be kept in the dark about it and how does the material before you – the emails, the expense claims, his responses – how does that sit with any assertion of some form of ignorance on his part?"

Wright said Pharo knew Pyatt had sources in Broadmoor and Surrey police, another reporter was paying a prison guard, one reporter had a "Chelsea copper" source, and a fourth reporter had a contact inside Armley Prison.

"Did he really occupy a position of such seniority and responsibility and have no idea that no fewer than four of his journalists had such sources, each of whom were in email communication with him seeking payment approval from him for sources?", he said.

"Did he not realise that meant there were five different public officials on The Sun payroll?

"Could he really not see a pattern emerging?"

He told jurors that the reliability of information was key for the newspaper, and knowing a contact was well-placed would have been important.

"Is it really suggested he ran the news desk in a state of blissful ignorance?", asked Wright. "We suggest not.

"As Jamie Pyatt admitted, and on the evidence, Chris Pharo knew, he approve the relationships, he sanctioned the payments, he was a party to the agreement reflect in the charges.

"He may not have had the final word but he was instrumental in the authorisation process."

Wright said Pharo's deputy, O'Driscoll, was also a willing party to paying public officials, casually signing off payment requests with his signature phrase "no probs".

He said O'Driscoll had showed his attitude to stories when allegedly discussing with a female journalist paying a police officer for information about singer Mika's sister who had suffered injuries in a fall.

O'Driscoll admitted in his evidence he was embarrassed to have commented: "She's really pretty too…" as she lay in hospital.

Wright said: "There was a casual use of corruption to feed the insatiable hunger for splashes and exclusives involving anything newsworthy.

"The more newsworthy the better.

"The casualties of terrible accidents such as Mika's sister's, the casualties of terrible crimes and their families, the morbid, the humorous, the mundane, the outrageous, the truly gripping, the macabre, the heart rending, the tragic, the spectacular, and the disturbing – everything had a price.

"The ends justified the means, providing it was a great tale."

O'Driscoll has described the female reporter, referred to as journalist A, as a "maverick" who could not be trusted to deliver reliable stories.

But Wright said: "His assault on the character, reliability, and truthfulness of journalist A as a journalist is all the more surprising in the context of how this assault came about.

"Not a single question was put on his behalf to Chris Pharo, the line manager of journalist A.

"This is not a view of a fantasist or maverick shared by Chris Pharo or Graham Dudman, who described her as a very hard working and talented journalist."

Wright said Edwards was a "commendable" man but questioned his claim to have a "fully functioning moral compass".

"The tragedy of this case is each of these men have commendable qualities – hardworking, sincere, decent – and John Edwards has all of these qualities and more", he said.

"But a fully functioning moral compass should be sufficient to point you away from activities sadly he is implicated and complicit in."

He said Edwards had revealed his part in the corruption by agreeing to finance Pyatt's payments to his sources.

Of Dudman, Wright said: "With age comes maturity, with seniority comes responsibility, and Graham Dudman lost sight of these things some considerable time ago.

"He thought he could do as he pleased, protected by the environment in which he worked.

"He may have sought to rationalise it as being justified, a perk of the job, a blind eye turned, everyone does it, this is what journalists do, the public have a right to know, it's within the public interest, what's confidential as far as I'm concerned – self justification."

Wright said Dudman's expenses claims in 2002 for entertaining a "City of London police officer" betrayed the culture at The Sun at that time.

"It spoke volumes for what was considered acceptable conduct by a journalist chasing a story", he said.

The prosecutor accused Troup of having "amnesia borne of necessity, not of a defect of memory".

He said the reporter had tailored his evidence to suit the case against him, remembering aspects of his case which he subsequently claimed to have forgotten.

Concluding his speech, Wright said the alleged corruption was a "continuing offence" lasting until money is handed to the public official.

He invited the jury to find each defendant guilty on all counts.

Pharo, of Wapping, London, O'Driscoll, of Windsor, Berkshire, and Dudman, of Brentwood, Essex, all deny three counts of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.

Edwards, of Hutton, Brentwood, Essex, and Pyatt, of Windsor, deny two counts of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.

Troup, of Saffron Walden, Essex, denies one charge of misconduct in public office. 

All six defendants have been cleared of an overarching conspiracy to pay public officials, while Pharo was found not guilty of paying a Sandhurst soldier.

The jury have been discharged from returning a verdict on claims that Pharo paid a prison guard for information.