By Martin Hickman
The Sun’s news editor did not believe that when his reporters asked for cash payments to “police” or “jail” sources that their contacts were actually serving police or prison officers, Kingston Crown Court heard today.
Giving evidence, Chris Pharo told the court that journalists on all types of newspapers would use such terms without necessarily meaning public officials.
Mr Pharo and five other past or present Sun journalists deny conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office by approving or making payments to a variety of public officials. Mr Pharo’s lawyer, Nigel Rumfitt QC, ran through 16 examples where the Crown alleges he committed the offence by approving payments.
In one, the Sun’s Thames Valley district reporter Jamie Pyatt emailed the news editor requesting £250 cash for a “police contact” for a story about a man who set fire to his wife.
Mr Rumfitt asked what Mr Pharo understood by “police contact”.
“Police contact is shorthand for most journalists, across the board,” Mr Pharo said. “It could mean a multitude of actual different sources.”
Asked by his lawyer: “Does it mean a serving police officer?”, Mr Pharo replied: “No, absolutely not.”
In any case, Mr Pharo told the court, by agreeing a payment of £250 he was only “pricing” the story, rather than authorising the actual payment.
In another example, Mr Pyatt asked: “Could I sort £250 for Broadmoor [high-security hospital] contact on nurse who’s getting married?”
Mr Pharo replied: “All OK.”
Requesting further clarification on the source, Mr Rumfitt asked: “Broadmoor contact?”, to which Mr Pharo said: “‘Broadmoor contact’ could mean anyone living in the [nearby] village.”
On a payment of £350 to a ‘police contact’ for a story about Chris Tarrant being arrested, Mr Pharo told the court: “It could literally be anyone connected to the police who’s mentioned that information.”
In another email, Mr Pyatt – who is on trial alongside his boss – said that a story about a couple having sex outside Windsor Castle had come from a “police contact” who “insists on cash payment to protect his job.”
Mr Pharo said he could not remember whether he approved the payment, though one was made.
For a front page story about Prince Harry and Afghanistan (“Harry: Send Me Back to War”), Mr
Pharo asked Mr Pyatt: “Will it have to be cash?”
Mr Pyatt emailed back: “Yeah, mate, he’s a soldier living within barracks.”
Mr Pharo agreed to pay £1,000.
Mr Pharo noted that the story was only a few hundred yards from The Two Brewers, which he said on Friday was Mr Pyatt’s favourite pub in Windsor.
Turning to his first arrest in 2012, Mr Pharo said it had been the “most shocking day of my life.” The police had raided his ex-partner’s home at 6.30am, he said, and – when he was eventually roused elsewhere – he had agreed to visit Limehouse police station in London at 11am.
He was arrested, had to remove his shoelaces and belt, and left in a cell without his watch. Later his flat in Wapping was searched.
Mr Pharo told the jury: “They overturned every drawer in the flat and they searched through the cereal boxes, the looked in the books, DVD cases.”
Interrupting, the Judge asked: “It was extremely thorough?”
After a short pause, Mr Pharo replied: “Er, yeah.”
He said his arrest had been gravely disturbing and he had been following his solicitor’s advice when he declined to answer the police’s questions.
In answer to Mr Pyatt’s lawyer, Richard Kovalevsky QC, Mr Pharo said that the Sun had been the first newspaper to investigate whether Surrey Police had investigated the DJ Jimmy Savile for sexual assaulting girls. However, no story was ever published.
Mr Pharo said that in his experience it was becoming much harder to confirm stories with public authorities.