Senior journalists at The Sun expressed a mixture of relief and anger as their three-year “ordeal” ended when they were cleared of paying public officials for scoops, including titbits on the princes William and Harry.
Chief reporter John Kay, 71, and royal editor Duncan Larcombe, 39, were found not guilty of wrongdoing over their contact with two military sources after a jury deliberated for more than 48 hours at the Old Bailey.
The Sun’s executive editor Fergus Shanahan, 60, and deputy editor Geoff Webster, 55, were also cleared over allegations that they signed off payments.
Afterwards, there were emotional scenes as the journalists embraced tearful family and friends who had supported them throughout the trial.
Outside court, Larcombe called for the “witch hunt” against colleagues to end, and said he hoped that one day he would wake up from the “nightmare” he had been living since his arrest three years ago.
Kay said: “It’s a great relief that a three-year ordeal is over. I just hope that this result bears fruit for other colleagues in a similar predicament.”
Shanahan said the trial had been a “terrible ordeal” for the families of all those involved as he expressed his hope that future cases would end in the “right result”.
Kay, Shanahan, and Webster were charged with conspiring with Bettina Jordan-Barber, an official at the Ministry of Defence, to commit misconduct in a public office between 2004 and 2012.
During that time, Kay’s “number one military contact” pocketed £100,000 from The Sun for a stream of stories she sold to the tabloid.
Webster also faced a second count of plotting misconduct with a serving officer in the armed forces in November 2010.
Larcombe was charged with aiding and abetting former colour sergeant John Hardy, 44, to commit misconduct in a public office.
While he worked as an instructor at Sandhurst Royal Military Academy between February 2006 and October 2008, Hardy was paid over £23,700 for providing Larcombe with information on William and Harry and others on 34 occasions, the court was told.
The retired officer was found not guilty of misconduct in a public office while his wife Claire, 41, who was accused of collecting tip-off fees for her husband, was cleared of aiding and abetting him.
The journalists’ acquittals will come as yet another blow to the multimillion-pound Operation Elveden investigation into newspapers’ dealings with public officials.
Last year, a News of the World reporter, who cannot be named for legal reasons, became the first journalist to be found guilty of paying a corrupt official following a trial. Former Sun editor Rebekah Brooks was found not guilty of signing off payments to public officials last year.
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