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Murdoch tabloids paid police for celebrity information, official says

Singer Charlotte Church, right, speaks to reporters Monday outside court in London after it was announced that Rupert Murdoch’s company paid her $951,000 in a phone-hacking settlement.

Associated Press

Singer Charlotte Church, right, speaks to reporters Monday outside court in London after it was announced that Rupert Murdoch’s company paid her $951,000 in a phone-hacking settlement.

LONDON — Rupert Murdoch's top-selling British tabloid, the Sun, had a culture of making illegal payments to corrupt public officials in return for stories, a senior police officer said Monday.

Sue Akers, a Metropolitan Police deputy assistant commissioner, told Britain's media ethics inquiry that the newspaper openly referred to paying its sources and that such payments had been authorized at a senior level.

Akers said Sun journalists had paid not only police officers but also military, health and other government officials. She said payments went far beyond acceptable practices, such as buying sources a meal or a drink.

She said "a network of corrupted officials" had provided the Sun with stories that were mostly "salacious gossip."

"There appears to have been a culture at the Sun of illegal payments, and systems have been created to facilitate such payments whilst hiding the identity of the officials receiving the money," said Akers, who is in charge of a police investigation into phone hacking and police bribery.

Akers' report came as the focus of the ethics inquiry shifted from press practices to the potentially explosive issue of corrupt relations with the police.

She did not indicate when or whether the payments had ended, but Murdoch insisted that practices at the Sun have now changed.

Akers made her accusations a day after Murdoch launched the Sun on Sunday, a replacement for his shuttered, scandal-tainted News of the World.

Police are conducting investigations spawned by the hacking scandal, which grew out of revelations that journalists at News of the World intercepted voice mails of those in the public eye in a relentless search for scoops.

Murdoch shut down the 168-year-old tabloid in July amid a wave of public revulsion, and the scandal has triggered a judge-led public inquiry into media ethics.

News International, Murdoch's British newspaper division, has paid several million dollars in damages and legal costs to dozens of phone hacking victims, including celebrities such as Jude Law and crime victims such as the family of Milly Dowler, a murdered 13-year-old whose voice mails were intercepted in 2002.

On Monday, Murdoch's company paid former teen singing sensation Charlotte Church $951,000 in a phone-hacking settlement for violating her and her family's privacy.

Murdoch tabloids paid police for celebrity information, official says 02/27/12 [Last modified: Monday, February 27, 2012 11:27pm]

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