By Martin Hickman
A former Sun executive believed that a Broadmoor worker who received payment for supplying stories to the paper was a “whistle-blower”, he told a court today.
The Sun corruption trial has heard that Robert Neave gave inside information about the psychiatric hospital to Thames Valley reporter Jamie Pyatt in return for cash.
Ben O’Driscoll, Sun ex-deputy news editor, told Kingston Crown Court that he did not know Neave wanted cash and believed he only wanted to alert the public to goings-on at the hospital.
He, Mr Pyatt, and Sun news editor Chris Pharo and Sun picture editor John Edwards deny three counts of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office involving Mr Neave; a police officer who cannot be named; and a third police officer, Surrey PC Simon Quinn.
In his first day in the witness box, Mr O’Driscoll, deputy news editor of the Daily Mail, was asked about his dealings with Mr Pyatt, who made payments to Mr Neave and PC Quinn (but not the other police officer).
Mr O’Driscoll had sent Mr Pyatt an email at 9am on 30 November 2007 alerting him to the existence of “Tipster Bob,” saying he was a long-serving nurse at Broadmoor who had rung into the paper and forwarded a summary of what he had said written by head office reporter Alex West. Mr O’Driscoll also forwarded Mr Neave’s phone number.
Asked by his lawyer Martin Hicks QC about the message, Mr O’Driscoll said he had simply “cut and pasted” the information from the news desk’s night log of phone calls.
Mr Hicks asked: “Did you actually type any of that?”
The executive told the court: “Not a single word.”
“I’m passing the tip from Alex West,” Mr O’Driscoll went on.
“I’ve taken that memo from the night log that would have been sent in the early hours of Friday.”
Mr Hicks asked whether he had heard the name ‘Tipster Bob.’
“Absolutely not,” Mr O’Driscoll replied.
“Is there any reference to cash?”
“None at all.”
Mr O’Driscoll went on: “It has got all the hallmarks of whistleblowing. He has worked there for 28 years and for whatever reason, he’s decided he now wants to blow the whistle on the way some of the patients are treated.
“I thought at that stage he was a whistle-blower.
“Broadmoor is on Jamie Pyatt’s patch and he has very good relations with the press office and he would be able to stand up this tip very easily.”
On a story about murderer Robert Knapper being put on suicide watch, Mr O’Driscoll said that he had been inadvertently included in an exchange of emails between Mr Pyatt and an administrative assistant about a payment to Mr Neave.
“It was all about Jamie’s lieu day. I thought he was working that day and he wasn’t,” he said.
Asked about what Mr Pyatt had meant in a later email about the story by his reference to his “Broadmoor contact,” Mr O’Driscoll told the court: “No idea.”
He was asked what weight he had given to Mr Pyatt’s assertion that there was a “major mole hunt on” at the high-security hospital to find the source of the Knapper story.
Mr O’Driscoll replied: “Very little; it’s classic reporters’ parlance.”
Turning to the second count involving the police officer and a Sun reporter who cannot be named, Mr O’Driscoll said he disregarded much of what “Journalist A” told him because she exaggerated.
His lawyers went through four stories in this count; about the TetraPak heir Hans Rausing, a drug-related death outside the London nightclub Whisky Mist, the footballer Jack Wilshere “brawling” and the impaling on railings of the sister of singer Mika.
On the Rausing story, Journalist A had emailed Mr O’Driscoll: “This is a copper contact of mine. Hans Rausing, one of the world richest men, failed to stop at accident etc. Drink driving. Any good?”
Mr O’Driscoll said the expression “copper contact” “could have meant anything”: perhaps the police press office, or a friend of a policeman, or someone who saw the accident happening.
Journalist A had written: “This guy’s always right.”
Mr Hicks asked his client: “What weight did you attach to that?”
“Very little,” Mr O’Driscoll replied.
He told the court: “Journalist A was a lively young girl but she was prone to exaggeration, she had to be treated with extreme caution.
“I remember in one day she was a national BMX champion, she was related to President Obama and she had built a life-size Spitfire in her back garden.”
Mr Hicks said: “Of course Journalist A is not here. Unwell. Not fit to be tried.”
Mr O’Driscoll said there had been no mention of payment in the email.
In any case, he said he did not believe the information in the story was confidential: “Mr Rausing is driving through central London full of crack cocaine, and when they go this house he goes on the run. It’s just not confidential information. It’s central London where he’s driving around; it’s not a secret.”
Information in the other stories was also not confidential, he added.
The case continues.