Eight arrests as Murdoch 'throws staff to the wolves'

Five senior 'Sun' journalists, two MoD staff and a police officer taken in dawn swoop as new front opens in bribery scandal

Rupert Murdoch was last night preparing to fly to Britain to join frantic efforts to secure the future of The Sun after the arrests of five senior journalists by police investigating allegations of bribery and phone hacking.

Police swooped on eight individuals between 6am and 8am yesterday, arresting the five Sun journalists, two Ministry of Defence staff and a police officer. The arrests came hard on the heels of five related arrests two weeks ago when four senior Sun journalists and a police officer were questioned in connection with bribery allegations. All eight were released on bail last night.

The latest astonishing development, which came two days after the Leveson inquiry into press standards finished its first session, prompted fury among the newspaper's staff, amid allegations that those arrested had been "thrown to the wolves" in an effort to bolster the embattled News Corp empire, and, particularly, to rekindle its hopes of taking over BSkyB. The police were acting on information provided by News International, owner of The Sun and Times newspapers, through its Management and Standards Committee (MSC).

Amid fury among the paper's editorial staff, Mr Murdoch was forced to issue a pledge last night that he was not preparing to sell the newspaper, via his chief executive, Tom Mockridge. Senior staff were told that Mr Murdoch planned to fly to London to calm the situation. Journalists including the paper's deputy editor were bailed after being questioned in connection with allegations of making illegal payments to police officers and other officials.

The investigation broke new ground yesterday: for the first time, the arrests broadened beyond payments to police, with a female member of the MoD and a member of the armed forces also held while their homes were searched following dawn swoops by officers working on the Elveden investigation. The journalists arrested were Geoff Webster, The Sun's deputy editor; John Kay, a former chief reporter who joined the title in 1974; Nick Parker, chief foreign correspondent; John Edwards, picture editor; and John Sturgis, a reporter. The paper's editor, Dominic Mohan, said: "I'm as shocked as anyone by today's arrests but am determined to lead The Sun through these difficult times.

"I have a brilliant staff and we have a duty to serve our readers and will continue to do that. Our focus is on putting out Monday's newspaper."

Nevertheless, there were fears that the worsening crisis at the red-top, sister paper of the now defunct News of the World, could have wider ramifications for the Murdoch media empire, as the Leveson inquiry prepares to examine the relationship between journalists and police. In 2003, The Sun's former editor Rebekah Brooks admitted to a parliamentary select committee that her journalists paid police officers for information, which is illegal.

Sources suggested that Mr Murdoch was being sent texts and emails from irate staff at the newspaper. Michael Wolff, Mr Murdoch's biographer, who has inside knowledge of News Corp, said last night that the latest arrests put pressure on theproprietor to close The Sun: "I've never known a point in News Corp history with so much internal acrimony... Murdoch must feel this is so out of control. He faces his son's arrest, a Department of Justice investigation, more bribe revelations, more hacking fallout and challenge to BSkyB control."

Yesterday's arrests mark the latest controversy surrounding the MSC, which has provoked anger among journalists at NI's Wapping offices. Several have protested strongly, warning that morale has been undermined. The latest criticism came from the National Union of Journalists, which accused Mr Murdoch of throwing his journalists to the wolves in an effort to save his company, adding that the reputation of those arrested will "inevitably" be damaged. The union's general secretary, Michelle Stanistreet, said News International staff were furious at "what many sense to be a witch hunt" and "a monumental betrayal on the part of News International". "Once again Rupert Murdoch is trying to pin the blame on individual journalists, hoping that a few scalps will salvage his corporate reputation," she said.

There were suggestions in Wapping that the MSC was, to quote one source, "draining the swamp" in an attempt to revive the BSkyB deal that fell apart last year in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World. Yesterday's arrests are the clearest indication yet that illegal activity was not limited to the News of the World, as was initially thought.

NI's chief executive, Tom Mockridge, sent a memo to staff at The Sun yesterday, giving them his "personal assurance" from Mr Murdoch that he plans to continue to own and publish The Sun. Speculation has been mounting since the closure of the NOTW last summer that Mr Murdoch might sell his three remaining British national newspapers. Some Wall Street analysts have said that selling these newspapers could add as much as 20 per cent to the News Corp share price.

Mr Mockridge's memo sought to reassure staff at The Sun and to stand by those arrested. "This news is difficult for everyone on The Sun and particularly for those of you who work closely with those involved. Some of the individuals arrested have been instrumental in breaking important stories about public bodies, for example the scandal of our underresourced troops in Iraq," he said.

"We must take care not to pre-judge the outcome of the police interviews." News International has provided legal support to those interviewed by police today.

Tom Watson, the Labour MP who has been instrumental in exposing the extent of illegal activity at News International, welcomed the arrests and in a letter to Mr Mockridge called for the issues that led to Rebekah Brooks's resignation to be re-examined. "It seems that Mr Rupert Murdoch now understands the seriousness of the situation News Corp in the UK finds itself in. Under your leadership, the Management and Standards Committee is, for the first time, ensuring that News Corp UK is fully co-operating with the police investigation into wrongdoing at News International. Clearly, allegations of illegal payments to police officers are more serious offences than those of phone hacking."

Yesterday's dramatic developments are the second batch of high-profile arrests at The Sun to take place in two weeks.

Deborah Glass, deputy chairman of the IPCC, said: "We are continuing to actively supervise the Metropolitan Police Service investigation into alleged corruption. Today's arrests are further evidence of the strenuous efforts being undertaken to identify police officers who may have taken corrupt payments."

News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Danish director Lars von Trier
tvEnglish-language series with 'huge' international cast set for 2016
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering