Thursday 18 January 2018

Sun reporters back boss in court

Geoff Webster arrives at Westminster Magistrates' Court with his wife Alison
Geoff Webster arrives at Westminster Magistrates' Court with his wife Alison

More than a dozen journalists from The Sun supported their deputy editor as he appeared in court charged with authorising payments to public officials for information.

Geoff Webster appeared at Westminster Magistrates' Court accused of two counts of misconduct in public office in 2010 and 2011.

He was supported by a group of Sun staff including royal editor Duncan Larcombe, crime reporter Anthony France and crime editor Mike Sullivan.

Webster, 53, of Winchet Hill, Goudhurst, Kent, was charged as part of Operation Elveden, Scotland Yard's investigation into alleged corrupt payments to public officials.

The court heard that the first charge alleges he conspired with a public official, a journalist, and others unknown to commit misconduct in a public office, and the second that in November 2010 he conspired with "a person or persons unknown" to commit misconduct in a public office.

Prosecutor Rebecca Chalkley told the court that the first charge relates to three occasions between July 2010 and August 2011 when Webster is said to have authorised payments totalling £6,500, leading to the publication of seven stories in The Sun. The second relates to a payment of £1,500 arranged by Webster on November 2010 for information provided by an unknown public official, she said.

Reporting restrictions were lifted and Webster's barrister Geoffrey Cox QC told the court the charges were "profoundly disturbing at this late stage", saying: "Mr Webster was engaged in nothing more than doing his job."

Mr Cox said he planned to challenge the prosecution on the grounds that it was an abuse of process and violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which covers freedom of expression.

In a separate case, a former police sergeant appeared at the same court charged with allegedly selling information to The Sun. James Bowes, 30, from Steyning, West Sussex, is accused of passing details of investigations to the tabloid in 2010, on one occasion being paid £500. He is charged with misconduct in public office between April 9 and July 20 2010.

After their separate hearings, Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle granted both men unconditional bail to appear at Southwark Crown Court on April 12 before Mr Justice Fulford.

Press Association

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