By Martin Hickman
The Sun’s editor, Rebekah Brooks, went into a foul-mouthed rant against at the paper’s news editor Chris Pharo during morning editorial conference because he had presented a poor news list, he told a court today.
Starting his evidence against charges that he conspired to pay public officials, Mr Pharo said that after storming out of the room, Mrs Brooks slammed the door so hard that the door fell off, locking him and his fellow executives inside.
Beforehand Mrs Brooks had gone round all the journalists in the room collecting up copies of the news list, on which he had ranked his top stories of the day.
Mr Pharo, who acknowledged the list had been his worst ever, said: “Rebekah screwed it into a giant ball, threw it into my face and screamed: ‘If you can’t produce a decent news list you can fuck the fuck off’.”
The paper’s news editor, who has been suspended on full pay, was giving several examples to Kingston Crown Court about life at the Sun, where he said there was a hire and fire culture.
During Kelvin MacKenzie’s editorship, he recalled, one reporter had been fired on the spot as a result of a mistaken identity when MacKenzie had waved a finger in his general direction.
Giving several examples of the culture at the paper, Mr Pharo said that Mrs Brooks could be delightful, telling the jury: “She’s absolutely the most charismatic and charming person when she wants to be.”
However she was a very demanding boss, who would start sending him emails from 7am, noting what was good in the Sun and – more often – berating him for missing good stories in other papers.
Mr Pharo told the court that in a morning “on occasions you would receive 25 emails of an extremely unpleasant nature [from Mrs Brooks].”
On one occasion, he said, she complained that the News of the World news editors were obtaining better stories than the Sun, telling him and other members of the Sun news desk: “If you fucking lot can’t come up with the same stuff I will fucking fire you all and replace you with them.”
Recalling the sometimes harsh nature of the paper, Mr Pharo said earlier the Sun had vetoed his planned posting to the Sun’s New York office because his then partner, Kirsty, had become pregnant. He told the court: “They told me I couldn’t go because it was a single man’s job.”
Neil Wallis, the paper’s Associate Editor, “rang me and called me an effing idiot.”
When asked for an exact quote, Mr Pharo said: “He called me a fucking idiot and he told me she [Kirsty] had deliberately set me up by getting pregnant and he told me I should get rid of her.”
A few days later, he said, Kirsty had screamed when the Sun was delivered to their home because the photo story in “Deirdre’s Photo Casebook” was about an “evil cunning girlfriend who got herself pregnant to crash” her boyfriend’s new promotion to New York.
“Neil Wallis binned the original [photo casebook planned for that day] and organised that one to humiliate me,” Mr Pahro said.
Moving on to paying for stories, he said that he had never liked the paper’s system of cash payments because it was “ripe for abuse” by reporters who could hide behind protecting their sources to fabricate contacts.
However he said that if he had tried to stop it he would have been made the “gardening editor” within a week, because it was a “juggernaut.” He only okayed the value of stories rather than approving them – which was the editor’s job.
When reporters referred to “my top royal copper” or “my ears and eyes at Sandhurst,” the news editor said they were just using the kind of phrases common in the job.
“The reality is that journalists claim they have access to sources across the board. It’s a way for journalists to big up their contacts,” Mr Pharo added.
He told the court: “There’s more fantasy in journalists’ expenses claims than The Lord of the Rings. It’s a long established truth that journalists’ expenses rarely reflect the truth.”
He said that in none of the instances forming the charges against him that he had known the payment was going to a single identifiable public official.
Mr Pharo and five other current and former Sun journalists – managing editor Graham Dudman, picture editor John Edwards, deputy news editor Ben O’Driscoll, and reporters John Troup and Jamie Pyatt – deny conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office.
At the start of their defence this morning, Judge Peter Marks instructed the jury to return not guilty verdicts on two of the nine charges variously faced the men: Count 1 and Count 6.
Count 1, an over-arching conspiracy charge, was rejected because, the judge said, there was no evidence that the public officials who allegedly received payments knew each other.
Count 6, involving a photo of a member of the Armed Forces, was rejected because it had been in the public domain.