Jury urged to put aside moral reservations about false claims for expenses
By Martin Hickman
Graham Dudman was “diametrically opposed” to paying the routine payment of cash to sources while he was managing editor of the Sun, the paper’s corruption trial heard today.
Making his closing speech at Kingston Crown Court, Oliver Blunt QC, for Mr Dudman, said emails showed his client repeatedly queried why the redtop’s reporters were asking for cash payments.
He told the jury that the evidence in the cases simply did not support the Crown’s claim that Mr Dudman, managing editor of the Sun between 2004 and 2011, had been part of a culture of “industrial-scale corruption” of public officials.
He pointed out that in emails to the paper’s Thames Valley reporter, Jamie Pyatt, and to another reporter referred to as Journalist A, Mr Dudman had asked why they needed to pay cash to contacts.
Mr Blunt asked: “Why is Mr Dudman asking why are we paying cash if he’s part of some conspiracy within News International?
“These emails, surely – do they not? – demonstrate that Mr Dudman was quite diametrically opposed to the wholesale payment of cash payments.”
He said that his client knew that paying cash was “not cash efficient” because the company was obliged by HM Customs and Revenue rules to pay an extra 23% in tax.
The QC told the jury that as managing editor Mr Dudman was very busy, responsible not just for contributor payments and expenses but staff training, discipline, promotions, demotions, redundancies – and liaison with the Press Complaints Commission, which took between a third and half of his time.
Mr Dudman was responsible for coverage across the newspaper and the editions for Ireland and Wales, overseeing an editorial budget of £63 million a year, of which £5m went on expenses.
Set against that budget, the size of all cash payments formed “a tiny proportion” of payments to contributors, he said..
News International’s chief financial officer Susan Panuccio, Mr Blunt reminded the jury, had testified that more than 95% of contributor payments were paid electronically into bank accounts.
And, he added, Mr Dudman would have up to 5,000 contributor payments to process each week.
The barrister calculated that the annual cash payments of between £350,000 and £400,000 represented “less than 1%” of the Sun’s total editorial budget.
As to Mr Dudman’s admission that he was entertaining his family during meals when he told his employers he was meeting contacts on the Soham inquiry, Mr Blunt told the jury: “He has openly volunteered to you the expenses culture which was enjoyed not only by the Sun, but by all other tabloid newspapers.
“You – uninitiated as you are in the world of journalism – may have a quite understandably jaundiced view of the submission of false particulars on expenses, but you do, in fairness to the defendants, have to put aside any moral reservations about this practice.”
Expenses fraud was not on any of the counts against Mr Dudman, Mr Blunt stressed, adding that it was unofficially accepted that the Sun that expenses could be claimed in lieu of overtime, telling the court: “You submit your expenses, that represents your overtime.”
Mr Blunt remarked: “You haven’t had any witness from News International come here and say: ‘Oooh, no, you’re not allowed to submit bent expenses’.”
At the start of his speech, the barrister pointed out the fact that his client and his co-defendants were sitting in a reinforced glass dock “more accustomed to seeing terrorists, murderers, rapists, armed robbers, and drug smugglers.”
Yet: “They are decent law abiding men, who’ve been subjected to minute scrutiny of the criminal justice system.”
Concluding his speech, after two hours, Mr Blunt told the jury: “I hope when you consider the evidence fairly, impartially, dispassionately, focussing on the direct evidence, you will have little difficulty in concluding that the case against Mr Dudman in regard to these three counts is simply not made out.”
Mr Dudman and five other past and present Sun journalists deny conspiring to commit misconduct in public office.