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Byline Investigates - The Sun: 'Key players allegedly paid for 7/7 victim and dead infant's medical reports'

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Byline InvestigationsLondon, England
Byline Investigates - The Sun: 'Key players allegedly paid for 7/7 victim and dead infant's medical reports'
The most senior people on The Sun's news floor allegedly bought medical secrets of hundreds of sensitive targets, the High Court in London hears

A “HUB of illegality” existed in The Sun’s newsroom where “key players” paid for the private medical secrets of victims of terrorism, murder, miscarriage and cancer - alongside suicidal celebrities and a dead infant, Byline Investigations can reveal.

Rebekah Brooks, the paper’s former editor and serving Chief Executive of its parent company News UK, personally approved some of the secret payments to a private detective working for Rupert Murdoch’s flagship British tabloid, the High Court in London heard.

Brooks, 49, relied on The Sun’s former Head of News Chris Pharo, 48, and serving Chief Foreign Correspondent Nick Parker, 56, to ‘run’ the day-to-day illegal services provided by professional medical records ‘blagger’ Christine Hart.

"Chris Pharo and Nick Parker were the protagonists in The Sun’s Senior News Team, which was one of the central hubs of illegality at the title" ~ claimants' barrister

A court document submitted by lawyers acting for 31 people suing The Sun for alleged breaches of privacy, said the paper was also illegally buying the confidential telephone records of many of its targets.

It stated: “Chris Pharo and Nick Parker were the protagonists in The Sun’s Senior News Team, which was one of the central hubs of illegality at the title.

“Mr Pharo features on no fewer than 41 cash payment records relating to 'phone checks' or 'phone inquiries', and Mr Parker’s draft emails, together with other emails, show that he was the key blagger at The Sun, and engaged in a very large amount of illegal information-gathering (not least through the commission of Christine Hart)."

Devastation: terrorists targeted London on July 7, 2005. The Sun allegedly targeted the medical records of at least one victim, according to court documents

In a Case Management Conference at the Rolls Building in London on Thursday, David Sherborne, claimants’ barrister, handed Managing Judge Mr Justice Mann a ‘confidential schedule’ detailing some of the most serious alleged invasions of medical privacy.

Byline Investigates is protecting the identities of the alleged targets, whose medical records were allegedly stolen, however we can reveal from other court documents they include:

Protected: Byline is not naming the alleged victims

· A member of the public who died after childbirth 

· Victims of the 7/7 terrorism attacks on London

· An actor’s dead toddler son

·A drug-overdose television star

· A captain of industry while they were dying

· An entertainer suffering miscarriage

· A singer’s suicidal family member

· An actor during rehabilitation for alcoholism

· A Hollywood couple’s child in hospital

· A TV star getting liposuction

In addition to this, The Sun was routinely paying for private phone records, including those of a woman murdered in 2003, and celebrities including television’s Katie Price, movie actress Sadie Frost, and politicians, the court heard.

Actress Sadie Frost gives a statement outside court after winning a previous phone hacking case against a different national newspaper group

The activities were allegedly run by the newspaper’s former Head of News Chris Pharo and serving Chief Foreign Correspondent Nick Parker. Parker was named in court as an alleged “handler” of private investigators in The Sun newsroom, to whom other journalists went for access to “illegal checks”.

The veteran tabloid journalist, described as ‘critical’ to the claimants’ case, was linked in particular to Christine Hart, who lawyers claim illegally obtained medical records by deception.

The money was allegedly handed over to private investigators for illegal checks on politicians, celebrities and victims of violent crime.

During the High Court hearing, the claimants’ lawyers divided Sun staff into journalists who requested cash, Editors above them, who approved the payments, and managing editors who authorised the release of the cash.

The alleged cash ‘requesters’ included Victoria Newton, Chris Pharo, Nick Parker and John Sturgis.

The alleged ‘editorial approvers’ included Editor Rebekah Brooks, her deputy (and later editor) Dominic Mohan, and senior executive Geoff Webster.

Other Sun executives Chris Roycroft-Davis, Graham Dudman and Richard Barun, were said to be the managing editors who then authorised the release of cash to journalists.

News Group Newspapers have neither admitted nor denied that illegal activity took place.

The court heard Nick Parker sent an email to his boss Chris Pharo chasing-up cash payments for outstanding fees for his ‘special contacts’ who needing paying for medical inquiries.

David Sherborne, the counsel for the claimants, said: “The email shows the type of material that was paid for, and the relationship between cash payments and unlawful inquiries.”

He said that he believed journalists and investigators were paying cash for British Telecom phone data, as the acronym ‘BT’ often appeared on cash dockets.

The lawyers for the claimants allege that Rebekah Brooks signed-off some of these payments, using internal documents known as Cash Payment Request Forms.

In a previous criminal case, Charlotte Hull - an administrative assistant who dealt with the documentation - told the court “there were hundreds of these documents signed by Ms Brooks.”

The 31 claimants suing The Sun include journalist and campaigner Jemima Goldsmith, filmmaker David Furnish, and his partner Sir Elton John, movie star Elizabeth Hurley and actress Billie Piper.

Sir Elton claims around 150 articles published in The Sun and The News of The World were based on hacking and blagging of his private life.

Billie Piper has cited around 150 articles, while Ms Hurley has cited 250 articles.

The purpose of the High Court hearing was to ask Justice Mann if it was fair to order News Group Newspapers to search for and disclose more documents and emails relating to cash payments.

The claimants asked Justice Mann to seek disclosure, in particular, of the documents signed by Brooks and her deputy, Dominic Mohan.

Mr Sherborne argued that documents related to “cash” and “Thomas Cook” payments, connected to Nick Parker and Chris Pharo, should be handed over.

The Sun used travel agents Thomas Cook to wire cash from its Wapping HQ to Thomas Cook shops around the country.

It is alleged Sun reporters or the private investigators themselves picked up the cash, which was used as payment for blagging personal information or phone hacking.

Clare Montgomery QC, counsel for News Group Newspapers, argued against handing over more paperwork before a trial scheduled for October, saying claimants were too late and it would too much of a burden on the company to do the searches.

Ms Montgomery said: “…these were all historic facts concerning the significance of cash payments.”

She said the request for disclosure had come "very late" in the proceedings, which have been going on for nearly three years.

A legal document prepared by NGN’s lawyers said: "…it is clear at this stage that the orders sought by claimants are likely to cause significant disruption to the trial timetable.

"...The further searches sought by claimants are disproportionate and unnecessary."

Lawyers for NGN argue that cash payments don’t necessarily mean taskings were for illegal private detectives.

Ms Montgomery said: “Cash payments were for other things, such as confidential sources.”

Ms Montgomery argued that an electronic search of its records for terms like “cash” and “special” would throw up too many ‘hits’, making it difficult for lawyers to search for relevant material.

She said some of the searches - for example search terms including words such as BT, Parker, Bizarre (the Sun’s showbiz section) and Cash - could generate 350,000 hits.

“This would be impossible in a realistic timescale,” she said.

Finding more documents would be difficult because the files “were scattered about” at various locations. The Sun’s former Wapping HQ has since been vacated, some of the files were “disposable” while accountants Price Waterhouse Coopers retained others.

Ms Montgomery said: “It’s almost impossible to tell how long it would to take us to find associated cash payments.”

Before files are released to the court, each one undergoes a ‘confidential source review’ to make sure the names of sources aren’t made public.

She said: “What you’re looking at is months of work; 80,000 pages have been reviewed for disclosure to the Metropolitan Police.

“A further request for cash payment searches from The News of The World would take even longer.”

But in a legal document, submitted by the claimants, it was argued that the scale of the criminality meant that the searches should go ahead.

It stated: “Chris Pharo and Nick Parker were the protagonists in The Sun’s Senior News Team, which was one of the central hubs of illegality at the title.

“Chris Pharo, News Editor, and Nick Parker are the two key players in this hub of illegality.

“Mr Pharo features on no fewer than 41 cash payment records relating to “phone checks” or “phone inquiries”, and Mr Parker’s draft emails, together with other emails, show that he was the key blagger at The Sun, and engaged in a very large amount of illegal information-gathering (not least through the commission of the medical blagger Christine Hart).

“Given that NGN has already isolated these documents, it would require minimal effort for NGN to disclose them to the Claimants.

“In the circumstances, this highly relevant information should be disclosed (and should plainly have been disclosed) a long time ago…”

Judge Mr Justice Mann agreed to make an order requiring the newspaper to hand over some of the documents requested by the claimants.

The case continues...

##phone hacking, ##hacking scandal, ##news uk, ##rupert murdoch, ##leveson 2

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