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Sun journalists 'treated like gang'


A senior figure at The Sun today launched a forthright attack on 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 UK 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.

"There is unease about the way some of the best journalists in Fleet Street have ended up being arrested on evidence which the MSC has handed to the police," he said.

And he described a mood of discontent at The Sun prompted by the parent company's handling of the situation.

He told BBC Radio 5 Live host Richard Bacon there was a feeling that News Corporation had been "boasting" about how it had worked with police, which had led to its employees being arrested.

Mr Kavanagh said: "There's certainly a mood of unhappiness that the company - certain parts of the company, not News International I hasten to add, not the newspaper side of the operation - are actually boasting that they're sending information to the police, which has put these people I have just described into police cells."

His comments came after it emerged that the solicitor representing the family of Milly Dowler, as well as other alleged victims of phone hacking, is taking his battle against Rupert Murdoch to America.

Mark Lewis, one of several lawyers representing clients pursuing claims against the News of the World for phone hacking, is expected to travel to the US within the next few weeks to meet with American lawyers about legal action in the country.

He was reported as being in the "advanced stages" of bringing at least one case against Mr Murdoch's company in the US.

Asked about the reports, he said he was "not prepared to deny" them.

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

Operation Elveden - which runs alongside the Met's Operation Weeting team - was launched as the phone-hacking scandal erupted last July with allegations about the now-defunct News of the World targeting Milly's mobile phone.

It has now widened to include suspected corruption involving public officials as well as police officers.

A serving officer in Surrey Police, a Ministry of Defence employee and a serving officer in the Armed Forces were also detained by officers from Operation Elveden on Saturday.

All eight people were released on bail.