Claims of illegal payments as more newspapers drawn into press standards scandal

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By Bob Duncan
 
Two prison officers at different high security prisons allegedly took payments of thousands of pounds from journalists, a senior police officer has said to the Leveson Inquiry.
 
Giving evidence to the inquiry into press standards, Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the metropolitan police Sue Akers said that detectives had analysed stories potentially linked to payments to two prison officers at separate high security prisons.

She told Lord Justice Leveson: “It’s our assessment that there are reasonable grounds to suspect offences have been committed and that the majority of these stories reveal very limited material of genuine public interest.”

The Metropolitan Police has confirmed that prison officers, aged 31 and 35, were arrested at their respective homes on 14 June and 4 July this year.  They have been bailed until October.

The first official is accused of receiving payments from Trinity Mirror, News International and Express Newspapers between April 2010 and June 2011, totalling nearly £35,000. It is alleged that he received additional payments on top of this, with the final payment being made in February this year.

Another prison officer, at a different high security prison, allegedly received payments from Trinity Mirror between February 2006 and January 2012, totalling more than £14,000, the inquiry heard.

Nick Fullagar, director of corporate communications for Trinity Mirror, who also own the Daily Record, said: “We take any accusation against the company very seriously and we are co-operating with the police on this matter.”

So far a total of forty one people have been arrested under Operation Elveden, the investigation into alleged corrupt payments to officials, including 23 former or current journalists, 4 police officers, 9 current or former public officials and 5 people who allegedly acted as go-betweens.

In addition, seven arrests have been made as part of Operation Tuleta, which is looking at allegations of computer hacking and privacy infringement.

Later, in closing submissions, Neil Garnham – QC for the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) – told the inquiry that no inappropriate relationships existed between police and journalists.

“We frankly admit that there have been incidents which led to a plain perception of cosiness between particular senior MPS officers and particular journalists,” he said.

But he added there were no corrupt, cosy or inappropriately close relationships between senior officers and journalists that could “taint police decision-making”.

He said the Met’s decisions not to reopen the phone-hacking investigation in 2009 and 2010 “were taken too quickly and with a defensive and closed mindset”, but had not been affected by relationships between officers and journalists at News International.

Counsel for the Telegraph Media Group, Gavin Millar QC, told Lord Justice Leveson that newspapers were struggling to compete with the availability of news on the internet.

James Dingemans QC, who represented Northern & Shell, owner of the Express Newspapers group – which is not a member of the PCC – said that any future regulatory body should not include current editors in order to ensure independence.

He also said the group was adamant that internet news providers should come under any regulatory umbrella.