Former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks has admitted paying public officials for information on “half a dozen” occasions during her time as a newspaper editor.
But she denied knowing that a source paid by the Sun for stories over eight years worked for the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
Brooks, 45, told the phone hacking trial at the Old Bailey she sanctioned payments on “a handful” of occasions between 1998 and 2009, when she edited the News of the World (NotW) and later the Sun.
Asked by her lawyer Jonathan Laidlaw QC if she ever sanctioned payments to public officials, Brooks answered: “Yes.”
Questioned on how many times, she replied: “A handful of occasions – half a dozen.”
“My view at the time was that there had to be an overwhelming public interest to justify payments in the very narrow circumstances of a public official being paid for information directly in line with their jobs.”
The court has previously heard claims that MoD press officer Bettina Jordan-Barber received a total of £100,000 (€121,640) for information she provided to the Sun.
Brooks said she did not know Ms Jordan-Barber was providing information to one of the newspaper’s journalists, who cannot be named, or that Ms Jordan-Barber worked as a public official.
“He never told me any of his confidential sources,” Brooks said.
“I mean most journalists kept their contacts and sources pretty close to their chest. It’s a standard thing in the industry.”
Asked if she should have known the identity of paid sources, Brooks said: “There should have been a process for that to come to me so I could, if anything, take responsibility for it.”
Earlier Brooks told the court she had regular contact with “senior level” police officers, military chiefs and figures from MI5 and MI6.
She said public officials working for former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown would often leak information to journalists during the pair’s “feud”.
Brooks, of Churchill, Oxfordshire, denies conspiring with others to commit misconduct in public office between January 1 2004 and January 31 2012.
The former editor, who also denies conspiring to hack phones and conspiring to cover up evidence to pervert the course of justice, took to the witness box today for her fifth day of evidence.
Jurors were shown a number of stories featured in the Sun which had followed payments to Ms Jordan-Barber.
She told the court she was “not sure” she would have sanctioned payment for a 2006 story about an army instructor getting drunk and causing trouble on a bus, despite being in the public interest.
“It certainly touches my public interest, the public interest, test,” she said.
“If I would have been asked to sanction payment for this....despite the public interest in this, I’m not sure I would have done.”
Brooks said she would not have sanctioned payment for a story in November 2006 about the death of a female spy in Iraq because “it would have come out any way”.
An email sent by a Sun journalist to Brooks in November 2006 was read to the jury.
It said: “Morning boss, I wondered if you would please authorise the following payments for my number one military contact?”
The court heard that the sum amounted to a total of £4,500 (€5,473) and that Brooks emailed back within a minute with the response: “Of course.”
Asked if she would have remembered at the time which stories the payments related to, she said she thought she would have recalled one of them but not the others.
But she told jurors she would not have had any reason to doubt the reporter in question.
“I’m not policing him. I’m not reading this email as we are now, looking for something wrong,” she said.
“At the time I think my state of mind would have been ’I think that’s quite cheap at the price’.”
Brooks said a Sun story about a paratrooper quitting due to treatment within the armed forces was “exactly the kind of campaigning” the tabloid was doing on the welfare of troops.
She told the court the journalist had a “very good relationship” with the MoD’s press office and would confirm stories with them. The former editor said there were “never any complaints” from the MoD about the stories or where the information was coming from.
Former prime minister Mr Brown did complain, however, over the Sun’s stories on the treatment of troops, Brooks said.
The trial was adjourned until tomorrow.