Sun's plea against 'witch hunt' falls on deaf ears

By Ian Burrell

The Sun newspaper turned to Downing Street for support in vain yesterday as it sought to generate a backlash to what it calls a "witch hunt" police investigation into the alleged bribery of public officials by its journalists.

The newspaper's associate editor, Trevor Kavanagh, was given a platform by editor Dominic Mohan to claim that News International journalists were "being treated like members of an organised crime gang".

Yesterday, a Sun journalist invited Downing Street to agree the police had deployed a disproportionate number of officers to investigate allegations of criminality at News International. Downing Street responded: "It is for the police to decide how they deploy police officers".

Kavanagh, the paper's political editor, then went on a tour of broadcast appearances including Radio 4, Sky News, and Radio 5 Live. In the latter interview, he accused News Corporation's Management and Standards Committee of "actually boasting" it was "putting people in police cells".

What was extraordinary about these criticisms of Rupert Murdoch's company is that they were made not just by a senior employee but a Murdoch ultra-loyalist, apparently with the sanction of the editor of News Corp's most popular British newspaper.

During the day, Sky video of Kavanagh's attack went on the Sun's website and his article in the paper was vigorously re-tweeted by the Sun's Twitter account. This was open rebellion. News International sister paper the Times was briefed that Sun journalists were being thrown to the police simply for taking contacts out for a £50 ($95) lunch.

The level of anger is great because the arrested journalists include some of the most respected figures in the Sun's newsroom. The picture editor John Edwards, who was one of those raided on Saturday, is the son of famous Sun photographer Arthur Edwards, a favourite of the royal family. Two more of those held, John Kay and Nick Parker, are among the paper's finest story-getters. Both are very well connected in government departments and Kay has twice been Reporter of the Year at the British Press Awards.

On page 12 of the Sun's edition came Kavanagh's tirade, in which he claimed it was common for journalists to pay for information and that Sun reporters were being treated like "suspected terrorists" for having done something that "has been standard procedure as long as newspapers have existed here and abroad".

In fact, the cash culture at News International tabloids has long been different to other papers. In the period under investigation, many experienced Sun journalists became used to going to the ground floor "cashiers" to obtain wads of money to entertain or pay contacts. In return for signed chits, sums of £500 or £1000 were readily handed over.

Kavanagh also claimed the police inquiry into journalistic malpractice was "driven by politicians". The reality is it's propelled by detectives angry at the damage the phone hacking scandal and allegations of corrupt officers has done Scotland Yard's reputation.

- Independent

ARRESTS OVER PAYMENTS

June 20, 2011

News International hands the Metropolitan Police details of payments made by the News of the World to senior police officers between 2003 and 2007.

July 8

Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, ex-royal editor Clive Goodman and a third man arrested on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications and in relation to alleged illegal payments to police officers. Bailed until March 2012.

July 17

Former News of the World and Sun editor and News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks is arrested in relation to phone hacking and illegal payments to police. She is bailed also.

November 4

Jamie Pyatt, Thames Valley district editor of the Sun, arrested over allegations of inappropriate payments to police.

December 15

37-year-old woman arrested, believed to be former News of the World crime editor.

December 21

Unnamed 52-year-old female serving police officer held over payments from journalists.

January 28, 2012

Four Sun journalists and a 29-year-old police officer are arrested on suspicion of "corruption, aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office and conspiracy in relation to the two previous offences".

February 11

Five Sun journalists, a serving Surrey police officer, a female MoD employee and a member of the armed forces are arrested.

- Observer

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