Tabloid rivals in bribery claims

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The Independent Online
LAWYERS FROM the News of the World and its rival the Sunday Mirror are struggling to settle a war of words over allegations of bribery. If they fail, the newspapers face an unprecedented clash in the High Court on Monday.

The editor of the Sunday Mirror, Colin Myler, wants to take the News of the World to court over allegations that one of the latter's journalists offered to pay up to pounds 5,000 a week to the Sunday Mirror's acting news editor, Dennis Rice, to leak his news list. It is alleged that a further sum of pounds 3,000 was promised if any of the leaked stories appeared on the News of the World's front page.

The approach allegedly took place on 10 August, and last Tuesday the Sunday Mirror attempted to take out an injunction on the News of the World, requesting that it undertake in court to desist from trying to bribe its journalists. The judge refused the injunction but said he will hear the full case in the High Court on Monday.

The News of the World will contest the claim, and counter with an allegation that its own journalists have been approached for information by journalists from the Sunday Mirror. Both sides say they have documentary evidence in support of their allegations.

Lawyers from the companies that own the papers, Mirror Group and News International, have had talks to prevent the case going to court and generating negative publicity. Mirror Group may drop the court action if News International guarantees not to indulge in the practice.

A Sunday Mirror crime reporter, Chris House, left the paper in 1995 after passing information about stories to the News of the World. A secretary on the Sunday Mirror's sister title, the Sunday People, left around the same time after being discovered selling stories - also to the News of the World.

Both departures occurred shortly after Piers Morgan became editor of The Mirror, the daily stablemate of the two papers. He had previously edited the News of the World.

Although such "moles" have occasionally been unearthed at newspapers, this is the first time titles have tried to take their rivals to court over such activities. Sunday newspapers are particularly dependent on sensational exclusives because of the lack of live news events on Saturdays.