The role of former Sun editor Rebekah Brooks is expected to come under fresh scrutiny after four of the paper's current and former journalists were arrested yesterday during an investigation into corrupt payments to police.
Detectives with Operation Elveden, the Metropolitan Police's investigation into illegal payments to officers, raided the Sun's offices in Wapping, east London, after receiving information from News Corp, the parent company of News International, which owns the paper. A serving police officer in the Met's territorial policing command was also arrested at his workplace and questioned at a police station.
News Corp said searches had taken place at the homes and offices of those arrested. "News Corporation made a commitment last summer that unacceptable news gathering practices by individuals in the past would not be repeated."
It is understood that staff and management at the Sun had no warning of the operation. Those arrested were Mike Sullivan, the paper's crime editor; the former managing editor, Graham Dudman; an executive editor, Fergus Shanahan; and Chris Pharo, a news desk executive. They all worked under Brooks, the Sun editor from January 2003 to September 2009, when she became News International's CEO.
Last year Brooks wrote to Parliament's home affairs select committee saying she had no "knowledge of any specific cases" involving News International reporters paying the police. This was an attempt to clarify comments that she made to the culture, media and sport committee in March 2003 when she declared: "We have paid the police for information in the past."
MP Paul Farrelly, a member of the committee, said: "The law must take its course. We have been clear all along that allegations of criminal behaviour involving journalists extend far beyond phone hacking."
Elveden was launched on the back of the inquiry into phone hacking. The scandal led to the closure of the News of the World after 168 years, prompted a major public inquiry, and forced the resignation of the Met's two most senior police officers.
Former News of the World crime editor Lucy Panton and Sun district editor Jamie Pyatt were arrested in connection with Elveden last year. A Scotland Yard spokesman said yesterday's operation was the result of information provided by News Corp. "It relates to suspected payments to police officers and is not about seeking journalists to reveal confidential sources in relation to information that has been obtained legitimately."
Deborah Glass, deputy chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which is supervising Operation Elveden, said: "It will be clear from today's events that this investigation is following the evidence. I am satisfied with the strenuous efforts being made by this investigation to identify police officers who may have taken corrupt payments and I believe the results will speak for themselves." The four journalists and the police officer were bailed late yesterday pending further inquiries. News Corp's management and standards committee, set up last July to co-ordinate a response to the phone-hacking and bribery allegations, said it had given the police "every assistance during the searches" while ensuring all appropriate steps were taken to protect legal and journalistic privilege".