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The Sun proprietor Rupert Murdoch Lewis Whyld/PA Wire/Press Association Images

The Sun had a 'culture of illegal payments to sources' says police chief

The senior police officer leading the phone hacking probe gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry into media ethics today.

THE SUN NEWSPAPER had a culture of making illegal payments to corrupt public officials in return for stories, a senior police officer has told the Leveson inquiry into UK media ethics today.

The revelations came as the paper’s proprietor Rupert Murdoch announced that its first-ever Sunday edition had sold more than three million copies. The media tycoon also said in a statement that such practices of illegal payments “no longer exist” at his newspaper.

Sue Akers, a Metropolitan Police deputy assistant commissioner, told the Leveson inquiry that the newspaper openly referred to paying its sources and that such payments had been authorised at a senior level.

Akers said journalists at The Sun had paid not only police officers but also military, health and other government officials.

She said that in one case an official received a total of £80,000 over several years and one journalist had been given more than €150,000 pounds in cash to pay his sources.

Payments went far beyond acceptable practices such as buying sources a meal or a drink, Akers said adding that “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.

Akers did not indicate when or if the payments had ended, but Murdoch has insisted that practices at The Sun have since changed.

“As I’ve made very clear, we have vowed to do everything we can to get to the bottom of prior wrongdoings in order to set us on the right path for the future. That process is well under way, he said.

The practices Sue Akers described at the Leveson inquiry are ones of the past, and no longer exist at The Sun.

Sun on Sunday sales

Police are currently holding three parallel investigations spawned by the hacking scandal, which grew out of revelations that journalists at the News of The World routinely hacked voicemails of ordinary people, politicians, and celebrities.

The scandal caused widespread outrage last July when it emerged that journalists had hacked into the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler. The News of The World was subsequently shut after 168-years.

More than a dozen current and former journalists from the two papers – both owned by Murdoch’s News International – have been arrested over allegations of phone hacking or bribing public officials.

Several Murdoch executives have resigned because of the scandal, as have two of Britain’s top police officers who were accused of not doing enough to get to the bottom of the wrongdoing at the News International titles.

Murdoch launched his new Sunday tabloid, the Sun on Sunday, yesterday in Britain and Ireland. He tweeted today to reveal that inaugural edition had sold 3.26 million copies.

The Irish edition of the newspaper sold 185,000 copies, described by the paper’s consumer champion Michael Doyle as a “great opening week”.

Elsewhere at the Leveson inquiry today, a former senior police officer said that the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, who was jailed for phone hacking in 2006, had information on the new identities of people who had been placed under the witness protection program in the UK.

“For this to be in the hands of Mulcaire and potentially the News of the World is clearly worrying,” Brian Paddick, now a Liberal Democrat London mayoral candidate, said.

The former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, whose own phone was hacked by the News of The World, accused Murdoch of having a corrupting influence on British politics.

“I always thought it wrong that politicians at the highest level were so close to Murdoch, because Murdoch asked a price,” the Labour politician said. “I thought it gave a kind of corrupting influence — not in the payment sense but in the power sense.”

- additional reporting from AP

Also today: Church ‘sickened and disgusted’ by actions uncovered in hacking case

Sun on Sunday goes on sale in Britain and Ireland

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