'Sun' executive attacks police

 

A senior figure at the Sun today attacked police who arrested five Sun journalists, claiming his colleagues had been treated like “members of an organised crime gang”.

The journalists were among eight people arrested at the weekend over allegations of improper payments to police and public officials.

Trevor Kavanagh, the newspaper’s associate editor, said the police investigation into alleged press malpractice was regarded by many as a “witch-hunt” and suggested that free speech in the United Kingdom was under attack.

In a strongly worded article printed in the tabloid, he argued that those arrested had been released on “draconian” bail terms like those imposed on suspected terrorists.

He wrote: “The Sun is not a ‘swamp’ that needs draining. Nor are those other great News International titles, The Times and The Sunday Times.

“Yet in what would at any other time cause uproar in Parliament and among civil liberty and human rights campaigners, its journalists are being treated like members of an organised crime gang.

“They are subjects of the biggest police operation in British criminal history - bigger even than the Pan Am Lockerbie murder probe.”

He added: “Instead of being called in for questioning, 30 journalists have been needlessly dragged from their beds in dawn raids, arrested and held in police cells while their homes are ransacked.

“Wives and children have been humiliated as up to 20 officers at a time rip up floorboards and sift through intimate possessions, love letters and entirely private documents.”

The arrests of deputy editor Geoff Webster, picture editor John Edwards, chief reporter John Kay, chief foreign correspondent Nick Parker, and John Sturgis, who is a news editor, sparked speculation that the red top would go the same way as the News of the World.

Mr Kavanagh, the Sun’s former political editor, said it was “absolutely right” for News International to co-operate with the police investigations into phone hacking and illegal payments to public officials.

But he added: “Some of the greatest legends in Fleet Street have been held, at least on the basis of evidence so far revealed, for simply doing their jobs as journalists on behalf of the company.

“Meanwhile, a huge operation driven by politicians threatens the very foundations of a free press.”

He later claimed it was clear there were people who wanted to see the Sun closed down. “There are people who will stop at nothing to destroy News International,” he told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One.

“The News of the World has already closed and they will not be satisfied until the Sun is closed too and I have to tell you that is not going to happen.

“There is no justification on the basis of what you and I know so far for any such precipitate and disastrous decision.

“I think that it would be a catastrophe for the British media, for the newspaper world, and even possibly for the BBC, if action which at this stage suggests no actual guilt should be regarded as grounds for closing newspapers.”

He also said there were concerns at the way evidence passed to the police by the company’s Management and Standards Committee was being used.

Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News International parent company News Corporation, is expected to fly to London to visit staff later this week.

PA