The dawn raid and arrest this morning at the Hertfordshire home of the Sun’s crime correspondent, Anthony France, has sent shockwaves through the new management regime at News International in London, with senior sources revealing that those at the top of the Murdoch-owned company mistakenly believed Scotland Yard’s corruption-related arrests had ended.
Journalists in the Sun’s newsroom were described by angry insiders as “close to boiling point” with many believing that at least another 10 arrests may still follow.
Mr France, 39, was detained and questioned at a police station in north London over suspicion of making illegal payments to public officials.
Two serving Metropolitan Police officers, one from the force’s Specialist Crime and Operations Command, the other from the specialist operations unit, were also arrested and questioned on suspicion of misconduct in public office.
The crime correspondent, with a reputation for obtaining major undercover exclusives that included an expose of a security flaw in Westminster, is the 22nd Sun journalist to be arrested as part of the Met’s probes into phone hacking and alleged corruption of officials in public office between 2004 and 2011.
News of the journalist’s arrest was broken in an email message to staff by the new chief executive of News International, Mike Darcey, who has only recently taken the helm at the company’s Wapping headquarters following the departure of Tom Mockridge.
Mr Darcey’s message to NI staff said he was “very sorry” to announce the arrest and that he “appreciated how hard it was to hear this news”. He added it was “particularly disappointing that these incidents, the first under my watch, and which have become less frequent, continue to take place.”
Promises that legal support for Mr France would be provided, and that information on the state of the police investigation would be called for, appears to have done little to improve morale on UK’s leading redtop.
Most of the NI arrests are related to information or investigative leads that have been provided by News Corporation’s Management and Standards Committee (MSC). Over 300 million internal emails have been be searched using “key words” technology . The process has identified emails and other messages which the Met ‘s anti-corruption investigation, Operation Elveden, regards as potential criminal evidence.
Scotland Yard said today that the latest arrests followed information that had been passed to them from the MSC.
A Met statement said the arrests “relate to payments to police officers and are not about seeking journalists to reveal confidential sources in relation to information that has been obtained legitimately.”
Mr Darcey, who was previously BSkyB’s number two before he took over from Mr Mockridge at the end of last year, worked closely with James Murdoch during his time at the satellite broadcaster.
The chief executive’s claim to have been “disappointed” by the arrest of Mr France, indicates that the internal independence of the MSC, which allegedly operates a Chinese wall between itself and NI, is still in force. The MSC, chaired by Lord Grabiner, reports to Gerson Zweisach, News Corp's general counsel in New York.
At the beginning of this month Mr France wrote a story in the Sun which claimed five police officers and a civilian worker had been “axed or forced to resign” from the Met’s hacking and anti-corruption investigations team. He claimed the departures were over “serious misconduct”.
Scotland Yard did not confirm the allegations made in the story.