The former chief reporter for The Sun has agreed that there were “no limits” on who the paper would pay for information, including the police, prison officers and nursing staff at state hospitals.
John Kay, 71, who made the admission while testifying on charges of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office, was then asked if “you were all above the law?”. He replied that “we operated within the parameters set in the office”. When the prosecution asked him if there was ban on paying policemen in place at the office he responded “in special circumstances, no”.
The charges against Kay relate to payments of £100,000 to a Ministry of Defence civil servant, Bettina Jordan-Barber, for what the prosecution say was confidential information relating to military issues. The journalist told the court that in his view his actions were justified as the articles that appeared were in the “public interest”. He also said that the civil servant was paid twice as much as other contributors due to the seriousness of the stories she produced and that all of the payments were authorised by the then editor of The Sun Rebekah Brooks.
Asked by prosecution barrister Michel Parroy QC “It would have been better for The Sun if you didn’t have to pay for stories?” the defendant replied “that doesn’t happen in the real world” as “free stories don’t grow on trees”. When Parroy asked “Would The Sun want to put out stories that were obtained unlawfully?” Kay responded “the means were there to serve the ends”.
Earlier Parroy had suggested to Kay there was a “profound difference between what is in the public interest and what the public are interested in” such as “sexual peccadilloes”. The defendant disagreed saying he was right to publish information about sex scandals in the army as these could cause a break-down in discipline.
He later confirmed that in his view everything that appeared in the Sun was in the public interest.
The court was shown a letter from Rebekah Brooks to the Press Complaints Commission stating that regular seminars were held to train staff on privacy issues and Kay was asked if he had ever attended one. “I don’t think they ever took place” Kay replied.
Also on trial at the Old Bailey are Sun royal reporter Duncan Larcombe; executive editor Fergus Shanahan, deputy editor Geoffrey Webster, army officer John Hardy and his wife Claire.
All of the defendants deny all of the charges, the trial continues.