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Journalists at Britain's best-selling tabloid The Sun had a "network of corrupted officials" who provided them with stories in return for large cash payments, a top police officer said Monday.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers of Scotland Yard told an official inquiry there was a "culture" at the Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper of paying police as well as the military, health workers, government and prison staff.
Since November, detectives investigating the payments have arrested ten current or former journalists from The Sun, as well as a serving police officer, a Ministry of Defence worker and an army officer.
"There appears to have been a culture at The Sun of illegal payments and systems have been created to facilitate those payments whilst hiding the identity of the officials receiving the money," Akers said.
She said a trawl of millions of emails from News International, the publisher of The Sun and the now closed News of the World, indicated that some public officials were paid huge amounts and even kept on retainer.
"The authority level for these type of payments was made at a very senior level" at The Sun, she said, adding that despite being illegal, the payments were "openly referred to" within the newspaper.
Akers was giving evidence at the Leveson inquiry, which is examining the practices of the British press in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal that prompted Murdoch to shut the News of the World last year.
Akers said the recent Sun arrests involved "the delivery of regular, frequent and sometimes significant sums of money to small numbers of public officials by a journalist".
"Some of the initial emails reveal upon analysis that multiple payments have been made to individuals amounting to thousands of pounds," she said.
"In one case, over a period of several years, this amounts to in excess of £80,000 ($127,000, 94,000 euros). There is also mention in some emails of public officials being placed on retainers.
"One of the arrested journalists has over several years received over £150,000 in cash to pay his sources, a number of whom were public officials."
She added that police were mindful of the right that journalists had to protect their sources when pursuing stories in the public interest.
But she said: "The vast majority of the disclosures that have been made have led to stories which I would describe as salacious gossip rather than anything that could be remotely regarded as in the public interest."
© 2012 AFP
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