Rebekah Brooks' role as editor of The Sun in paying sources was "disguised" from the corruption trial of six of the paper's journalists, a court heard today.
Hundreds of payment request forms signed by Brooks (pictured, Reuters) and her successor, Dominic Mohan, have failed to materialise at the trial at Kingston Crown Court, it is said.
Oliver Blunt QC told jurors they were "misled" about the editor's involvement, only for some evidence to be "flushed out" of News International (now News UK) by defence solicitors.
"You were completely misled at the outset in regard to the authorisation process for cash payments," he said.
"That vital layer of editor or deputy editor authorisation was completely disguised from you.
"Who's responsible for that I'm not going to waste time on it, but you could be forgiven for thinking the cash payments system worked journalist to desk head, desk head to managing editor, and then there you are.
"That was frankly grossly unfair."
Blunt, defending former Sun managing editor Graham Dudman, said 3m emails were missing, and emails from Mohan were conspicuously absent at the trial.
"We are handicapped by the fact there are 3m missing emails," he said.
"Where are Dominic Mohan's emails?
"Unfortunately, whether deliberate or accidental, we simply don't have Mr Mohan's emails."
Blunt said Mohan, who served as Brooks' deputy editor before taking over in 2009, had approved five cash payments linked to Dudman on the same day, 4 December 2007, according to emails that emerged midway through the trial.
These were for stories about a suicide in prison, a "fireball" engulfing soldiers in Afghanistan, a "maniac" stabbing two nurses, and the fact the killer of Rachel Nickell was on suicide watch.
Blunt said the approval of cash to the sources by Mohan preceeded an email exchange in which Blunt said Dudman challenged the cash payment system and the way it was operated.
"What could be more clear than that Mr Dudman was questioning cash payments," he said.
"Surely do they not demonstrate Mr Dudman was quite diametrically opposed to the wholesale payment of cash payments.
"The prosecution made the bold assertion of industrial scale corruption, that no one challenged or questioned the payments.
"But Mr Dudman is doing exactly that."
Dudman, 51, is on trial with The Sun's head of news Chris Pharo, 45, deputy news editor Ben O'Driscoll, 38, picture editor John Edwards, 50, and reporters Jamie Pyatt, 51, and John Troup, 49, for paying public officials for stories.
Dudman, now an executive at parent company News UK, is said to have overseen the payment system for seven years in his role as managing editor.
But Blunt said only 13 payments requests were actually signed by Dudman, while the rest in the case bore the signature of his deputy, Richard Barun.
He said Dudman signed off no payments in 2004, 2008, 2010, and 2011, and of those he did sign, it amounts to £7,100.
"That's £1,000 per year in his seven years as managing editor," said Mr Blunt.
"That represents 0.0017 per cent of his £420 million budget over seven years.
"It's a drop in the ocean and I hope it puts into perspective the proposition articulated by the prosecution of industrial scale corruption.
"Every single one of these contributor request payment forms which came to Mr Dudman came with an editor's approval signature on it already."
He told jurors that cash payments form a "tiny portion" of all payments to sources made by the newspaper, as 95 per cent of the payments go through the electronic system.
He said Susan Panuccio, the former chief financial officier at News International, told the court: "It stands to reason a managing editor couldn't investigate all such payments.
"There has to be a strong element of trust in the desk heads."
Blunt said Dudman, who had no accountancy training, had to contend with hundreds of payments requests a week relating to thousands of stories, as well as handling a £5m a year expenses system and the demands of Brooks.
He also pointed out Dudman was arrested nearly three years ago and has been in court throughout the three month trial that will decide his fate.
"The reasons we are all here is because of these six men in the back of the court, sitting as they do in a reinforced glass enclosure occupying a place that's more accustomed to seeing terrorists, murderers, rapists, armed robbers, and drug smugglers.
"These six men are all men of good character, all men who have no convictions at all
"They are decent, law-abiding men who have been subjected to the minute scrutiny of the criminal justice system."
Pharo, of Wapping, east 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.
The trial continues.