By Martin Hickman
Britain’s biggest newspaper group fed “misleading” and “incomplete” evidence to detectives about bribery of public officials including supplying barely any documents from its former chief executive Rebekah Brooks, a lawyer for a Sun journalist told the court today.
In a full-frontal attack on Rupert Murdoch’s UK newspaper group, Nigel Rumfitt QC, representing Sun news editor Chris Pharo, told a court News International was an unreliable “corporate copper’s nark.”
He suggested the “over-mighty” company had selectively handed internal emails and expenses documents to the Metropolitan Police as part of a cover-up of alleged payments to policemen and other officials.
Giving his closing speech at the trial of six Sun journalists for conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office, Mr Rumfitt told Kingston Crown Court that News International was an “unscrupulous company which has decided the best way to save its own skin is by shopping its own employees.
He said that following the phone hacking scandal the company was concerned that it would be prosecuted itself for illegal newsgathering techniques.
A prosecution in the UK, he said, could have led to the US stripping its parent company, News Corp, of valuable licences – at a cost of tens of thousands of jobs.
Mr Rumfitt asked the 12 jurors whether they could be sure Mr Pharo was guilty of the three counts with which he is charged because of the amount of incomplete evidence supplied by News International.
Three million emails had been deleted, he said.
Only one cash payment chit signed by Mrs Brooks, Sun editor for part of the indictment faced by his client, had been supplied to the court.
Mr Rumfitt asked the jury: “Do you think that Rebekah Brooks only ever signed one of those?
“The evidence of [NI clerical assistant] Miss Hull was that she [Brooks] must have signed hundreds of them. Where are they?
“Why are there only three emails from or to Rebekah Brooks in all these papers?”
Mr Rumfitt asked: “It couldn’t just be that there’s been another cover-up at News International?”
Of the company’s internal efforts to liaise with the Metropolitan Police, the QC said: “The Management Standards Committee was appointed by Murdoch and paid by Murdoch…
“The MSC is about as independent as the Isle of Wight. It’s a front for News International. It’s plainly been involved in a cover-up.”
He said: “News International is just a corporate copper’s nark… a grass, like all grasses, who gives a mixture of inaccurate and misleading information to the police to save its own skin.”
Mr Rumfitt suggested that the case was an attack on the free press, citing the Crown’s opening speech by Peter Wright QC, which was “peppered” with references to Sun stories being published to “titillate or amuse… in a voice dripping with disdain.”
During cross-examination, the Crown had accused reporter Sun district reporter Jamie Pyatt of paying “blood money” to an official.
“What’s that all about – if that’s not an attack on the press?” Mr Rumfitt asked.
He complained the prosecution of not grasping the commercial nature of tabloid newspaper journalism.
“The prosecution simply do not understand what the tabloid newspaper industry is about…” he said. “If you don’t have stories about celebrities [and others] the free press itself will die.”
Mr Rumfitt asked the jury to consider carefully the stories at the centre of the charges.
“Putting aside the question of cash payments – and I know this is why we are here” he said, “is there a single story in what you’ve read that you think should never have found its way into a newspaper?
“Is there anything in there which is not in the public interest?
“Do you think Broadmoor should have allowed to keep the Yorkshire Ripper’s trip to the Lake District a secret?”
Even when it came to payments, Mr Rumfitt suggested, the amounts were small. Over five years the total of payments had been £17,200, the equivalent of £2,867 a year – or £55.13 a week.
Referring to Mr Wright’s reference in his opening speech to “corruption on a grand scale”, Mr Rumfitt said: “‘Corruption on a grand scale’ – £55.13p a week?”
He said that his client had not believed Mr Pyatt’s claims that he was paying a source in Surrey Police, nor the claims of another Sun reporter, Journalist A, to be paying an officer in the Metropolitan Police.
As to the cash handed by Mr Pyatt to Robert Neave, a healthcare assistant at Broadmoor, Mr Pharo’s defence was that the public had a right to know about what was happening inside the high-security hospital.
Mr Rumfitt said the fact that Mr Neave was “a professional whistle-blower” did not diminish the interest of the free press in covering what happened within the walls of Broadmoor.
Mr Pharo, Mr Pyatt and four other past and present Sun journalists deny conspiring to commit misconduct in public office.
The case continues.