Ian Burrell: Why money talks when reporters want police help

Background

"Payments by journalists to police officers have a long history. One long-retired crime correspondent recalls having a list of officers to whom he would regularly send a £5 note 'wrapped in a plain WH Smith envelope'."

This observation was made by The Daily Telegraph in March 2003, a few days after the editor of The Sun Rebekah Brooks (then Wade) told a committee of MPs: "We have paid the police for information in the past."

The Daily Telegraph, which had not regarded Ms Brooks' admission as a significant story on the day of the committee hearing, probed the issue of media payments to police two days later and concluded, "cash for information is nothing new".

The suggestion of a culture of media payments to the police will be the subject of a "scoping exercise" led by Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick, who said yesterday she wants to see if there are grounds for a criminal investigation. While there is no suggestion that The Daily Telegraph paid police for information, it echoed Ms Brooks' assertion that this often happened in Fleet Street. In a letter sent this week to the Home Affairs Committee, Ms Brooks claimed to have been talking in general terms eight years ago. "My intention was simply to comment generally on the widely held belief that payments had been made in the past to police officers."

In 2003, before the phone-hacking scandal spread a chill through tabloid newsrooms, Ms Brooks was not alone in holding that view. The retired and unnamed crime correspondent with the WH Smith envelopes said he believed he was doing nothing wrong simply because he used a middleman.

"What the intermediary does with the money is none of your business. As long as you're not directly paying a policeman, you're OK," he said.

The veteran Mail on Sunday crime reporter, Chester Stern, told The Daily Telegraph he was able to get his stories by wining and dining contacts, but that other journalists went further and paid cash. "Yes it goes on, but it is very much the exception rather than the rule," he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific