Byline Investigates Big News Part 23: Cash for Your Private Data – The Sun on trial
By Graham Johnson
Editor, Byline Investigates
A SENIOR journalist at Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun illegally bought people’s medical, phone, and benefits records for stories from data criminals for cash – then tried to hide the evidence in secret draft company emails, the High Court has heard.
Chief Foreign Correspondent Nick Parker allegedly attempted to conceal his forensic footprint on The Sun’s servers by storing – but never sending – email logs of his criminal transactions with private detectives, according to lawyers for 58 people suing the paper for phone hacking.
Instead, Mr Parker allegedly printed out an invoice list for his line manager, former Head of News Chris Pharo, who allegedly approved sums of up to £1,600-a-time, paid in hard currency to protect the identity of their recipients.
The Sun and its parent company News Group Newspapers (NGN) deny wrongdoing.
However, Mr Parker’s alleged working methods at The Sun have come to light among thousands of documents dating between 2005 and 2010 that NGN has been forcibly required to disclose by Managing Judge Mr Justice Mann as part of an emerging wave of litigation facing Mr Murdoch’s market-leading UK tabloid.
“This… relates to a number of draft emails from Nick Parker’s mailbox in which he appears to have kept records of work that he commissioned private investigators to carry out on his behalf, including phone checks and other investigations,” said Mr Sherborne.
“Some of the emails show that he was using private investigators to check medical and benefits records, and to ‘turnaround’ mobiles (illegally reverse-checking a phone number for its registrant’s name).”
He added: “The amounts involved, ranging between £1,200 and £1,600 for each batch, are also significant. The claimants note that these were prepared as draft emails, rather than being sent.
“Given their incriminating contents, the claim case will be that they were deliberately created as ‘draft’ emails so that they could later be deleted without any record of the emails remaining on the NGN (News Group Newspapers) server (which is a critical distinction to other emails in an individual’s account).”
Mr Sherborne went on to ask Justice Mann to make further disclosure orders around other drafts contained in Mr Parker’s work emails.
“The search NGN would have to carry out would be limited to Mr Parker’s draft emails, and any results would be likely to contain significant and incriminating evidence relevant to unlawful activity at The Sun, and should be disclosed.”
A court heard how Parker kept records on his work email account of checks that he commissioned on people receiving social benefits who were the targets of Sun stories.
A full trial of the facts is scheduled for January.
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