A senior London police officer heading criminal investigations into allegations that public officials unlawfully accepted money from journalists today told the Leveson Inquiry how inquiries suggested a "culture" of "illegal payments" at The Sun.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner (DAC) Sue Akers, who is leading the Metropolitan Police's latest inquiries into allegations of phone hacking, email hacking and corrupt payments, said investigations pointed to payments being made to officials in "all areas of public life".
She said payments did not amount to an "odd drink or meal" but "frequent" and "sometimes significant" amounts.
Evidence suggested that one public official was paid around £80,000 over a period of years and indicated that a journalist received more than £150,000 over several years to pay "sources", said DAC Akers.
Lord Justice Leveson was told that police were investigating "possible offences" of corruption, misconduct in public office and conspiracy.
DAC Akers said a number of Sun employees and police officers - plus a member of the Ministry of Defence and a member of the armed forces - had been arrested and she gave an update on the investigation.
"It (the investigation) suggests payments were being made to public officials in all areas of public life," she said.
"There also appears to have been a culture at The Sun of illegal payments and systems created to facilitate those payments."
She suggested that journalists appeared to have been "well aware" that "what they were doing was unlawful".
DAC Akers said payments did not appear to amount to the "odd drink or meal" but to: "Regular, frequent and sometimes significant amounts of money to small numbers of public officials by journalists."
She told the inquiry that there was evidence of "multiple payments amounting to thousands of pounds".
DAC Akers said one public official had "over a period of several years (received) amounts in excess of £80,000".
She added: "One arrested journalist has over several years received over £150,000 in cash to pay his sources."
Ms Akers said because of the nature of the investigation it was "easier" to identify journalists than public officials.
But she said police hoped that more investigation would reveal the identities of public officials.
Lord Justice Leveson asked to be kept informed of the progress of police inquiries and said he did not intend to allow his inquiry to prejudice any criminal investigations.
Ms Akers told Lord Justice Leveson that most "disclosures" led to "gossip" stories.
"The vast majority of the disclosures that have been made have led to stories which I would describe as 'salacious gossip'," she said. "Not what I would describe as being remotely in the public interest."
Commenting on Ms Akers' evidence, News Corporation Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch said: "As I've made very clear, we have vowed to do everything we can to get to the bottom of prior wrongdoings in order to set us on the right path for the future.
"That process is well under way. The practises Sue Akers described at the Leveson Inquiry are ones of the past and no longer exist at The Sun. We have already emerged a stronger company."