Thursday 27 October 2016

Former soldier in Prince Harry's regiment cleared of selling stories to papers

Emily Pennink

Published 17/12/2015 | 15:25

Prince Harry meets British soldiers competing in the Warrior Games in Colorado Springs (Arthur Edwards/The Sun /PA)
Prince Harry meets British soldiers competing in the Warrior Games in Colorado Springs (Arthur Edwards/The Sun /PA)

A former soldier in Prince Harry's regiment spoke of his joy at being found not guilty of committing misconduct by selling tips to The Sun and News of the World in the last of the long-running series of Operation Elveden trials.

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Paul Brunt, 33, from Kentish Town, north London, was accused of receiving £16,000 in payments from News International over 18 months.

He denied two counts of misconduct in a public office and the Old Bailey jury took less than three hours to clear him of wrongdoing.

The jury in the retrial was not told that Brunt had his earlier conviction over the case quashed at the Court of Appeal in the spring.

Outside court, he said: "I'm just so glad it's over obviously. I'm really, really grateful. I'm happy that I can spent time with my two children over Christmas which was my main worry."

Mr Brunt said: "I just want to thank everyone for their support and bearing with me, especially my fiancee who has gone through as much as me over the last two years.

"It obviously has an effect on your life because you are in constant fear of being sent to prison. I'm just really grateful the public have seen through all that."

He went on: "I understand that the laws are there. I accept speaking to the press is wrong but everyone from the Armed Forces do need to be aware there are legal consequences they could face."

The trial had heard how Brunt was first paid £5,000 for material that led to a NotW story about a fancy dress Christmas parade headlined "Swastika Shame of Prince Harry's Regiment".

In all, he received £9,450 from the NotW and £7,150 from The Sun between April 2006 and November 2007, jurors were told.

When he was arrested, he told police it was "easy money" for "just silliness" and insisted he never revealed "any secret stuff", his Old Bailey trial heard.

But prosecutor Julian Christopher QC told jurors: "The point is he was being paid over many months as a secret inside source of information which he knew he should not be providing to the press."

Mr Christopher had told jurors that Brunt was a lance corporal in the same regiment as Prince Harry, the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, so any information, "however inconsequential", was valuable to the newspapers.

The defendant knew "full well" the strict rules about soldiers in the British Army briefing the press, but provided information to the two newspapers over 18 months, he said.

Evidence included published articles and phone records showing "extensive" contact with NotW reporter Ryan Sabey.

When Mr Sabey asked for payment for a story about Harry taking Arabic lessons ahead of deployment to Iraq, he described Brunt as an "extraordinarily important contact", the court heard.

Other evidence came from accounting records from News International detailing payments to the soldier by bank transfer and Thomas Cook cash.

Jurors were told some of the payments were for tips, while others were just to "keep him sweet" and "on side" because of his status as an "extraordinarily important Army contact".

Mr Christopher said: "What is important is ... the long-standing relationship rather than one individual piece of information on any occasion.

"Whether it was to do with the deployment of Prince Harry to Iraq or Afghanistan or small bits of gossip or whether it was stories about other soldiers deemed newsworthy simply because they were in the same regiment, Mr Brunt was receiving numerous payments over a long period of time.

"The stories could not conceivably be said to be important in the public interest, revealed to the press by a conscientious whistle-blower - and that's not how Mr Brunt described his activities on arrest.

"He simply said he saw it as easy money, just silliness, saying there was never any secret stuff."

Brunt had declined to give evidence but it was argued on his behalf that the Nazi fancy dress story raised serious issues about racism in the army and was in the public interest.

Other stories were dismissed as "gossip and rumour" which could not be said to have seriously harmed the public.

Brunt's lawyer Gordon Ross added that the prosecution could not prove what information had actually originated from his client

Brunt was the last defendant in a tranche of Elveden trials at the Old Bailey which led to dozens of public officials being convicted but only one Sun journalist.

The jury was not told that the case was a retrial or that Brunt's original conviction was quashed on appeal along with his former co-defendant Ryan Sabey earlier this year.

The Crown Prosecution Service decided not to pursue a retrial in Mr Sabey's case following a root and branch review in the spring.

Press Association

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