A senior civil servant at the Ministry of Defence was on the payroll of the Sun for almost a decade, prosecutors claimed as they charged the former editor of Britain’s best-selling newspaper, Rebekah Brooks, and its chief reporter with plotting to bribe public officials.
Bettina Jordan Barber, a strategy officer at the MoD in London with responsibility for Afghanistan, allegedly passed information for stories to Rupert Murdoch’s redtop tabloid between 2004 and 2012 in return for £100,000.
The Crown Prosecution Service today revealed that charges of conspiracy to commit misconduct were being laid against Ms Brooks, the Sun’s long-standing chief reporter John Kay and Ms Barber, following a police inquiry into newspaper payments to public officials.
They are said to have committed the offence during an eight-year period between January 1 2004 and January 31 2012.
The News of the World’s former editor, Andy Coulson and the News of the World’s royal editor Clive Goodman were charged separately with two counts of conspiracy to commit misconduct over an alleged plot to obtain contact details for the Royal Family.
Alison Levitt, QC, principal legal advisor to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, said the police had sent the CPS two files on conspiracy to commit misconduct in public life on 30 August.
In a statement this morning, she said: “All of these matters were considered carefully in accordance with the DPP's guidelines on the public interest in cases affecting the media.
“This guidance asks prosecutors to consider whether the public interest served by the conduct in question outweighs the overall criminality before bringing criminal proceedings.”
Detailing the case against the Sun, she said: “We have concluded, following a careful review of the evidence, that Bettina Jordan Barber, John Kay and Rebekah Brooks should be charged with a conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office between 1 January 2004 and 31 January 2012.
“This conspiracy relates to information allegedly provided by Bettina Jordan Barber for payment which formed the basis of a series of news stories published by the Sun. It is alleged that approximately £100,000 was paid to Bettina Jordan Barber between 2004 and 2011.”
Scotland Yard has been carrying out three sprawling inquiries into illegal newsgathering at News International’s headquarters in Wapping, east London, prompted by alleged phone hacking at the News of the World, which Mr Murdoch shut last July.
Operation Weeting into phone hacking, Tuleta into computer hacking and other breaches of privacy and Elveden into corruption of public officials have made 97 arrests, of journalists, police officers, civil servants, prison and tax officials and members of the Armed Forces.
As a result, 20 people have now been charged.
Mrs Brooks, who edited the Sun between 2003 and 2009, and five others – including her husband Charlie Brooks - have been accused of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and conspiracy to hack phones.
Mr Coulson, who served as Mr Cameron’s director of communications for five years, until his resignation last January, is accused of perjury in Scotland and conspiracy to hack phones in England and Wales.
Five other former NoW journalists – managing editor Stuart Kuttner, chief reporter Neville and news editors Ian Edmonson, Greg Miskiw and James Weatherup – have been charged with conspiracy to hack phones, along with a private detective, Glenn Mulcaire.
The former editor of the NoW’s Scottish edition, Bob Bird, has been charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice and its news editor Douglas Wight with perjury, conspiracy to hack phones, and conspiracy to obtain personal data.
In addition, a counter-terrorism officer, Detective Chief Inspector April Casburn, is accused of leaking information to the News of the World about the police inquiry into whether to reopen the investigation into phone hacking in 2010. She is due to stand trial in January.
All the accused deny the charges.
All five charged with conspiracy to commit misconduct in public will appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Thursday.
The Leveson Inquiry report into the ‘culture, practice and ethics’ of the press is expected to be published next week.