Journalists from The Sun newspaper packed the public gallery at Westminster Magistrates’ Court to support the red-top’s royal correspondent as he faced charges of paying a public official and his wife for information about the Royal Family.
After a short hearing, Duncan Larcombe, 37, vowed to clear his name and said he was “shocked and disappointed” to be charged with conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office after allegedly paying £23,000 to John Hardy, a Colour Sergeant at the Royal Military Training Academy at Sandhurst, and his 39-year-old wife, Claire Hardy.
The journalist has been charged after an investigation by officers working on Operation Elveden, the Metropolitan Police’s inquiry into alleged corrupt payments to public officials by the media. The executive editor of The Sun, Fergus Shanahan, 58, also appeared in court having been separately charged with the same offence after allegedly authorising a journalist to make payments amounting to £7,000 to a public official.
More than 20 journalists from the newspaper attended the hearings to support their colleagues. They included The Sun columnist and former political editor Trevor Kavanagh, the “Dear Deidre” agony aunt Deirdre Saunders and senior executives Geoff Webster and Graham Dudman. Also in the public seating were Neil Wallis, former deputy editor of the News of the World, and Daily Mail columnist Simon Heffer, a friend of Mr Shanahan.
Outside the court, Mr Larcombe’s solicitor, James MacWhirter, read out a statement from his client. “I have been a journalist since the very week Princess Diana died,” it began. “During my career, 12 years of which have been spent at The Sun, I have had the privilege to cover the Royal Family and have also risked my own life reporting on the work of our brave servicemen and women on the front line in Afghanistan.
“I hope to demonstrate that I am a responsible journalist who reported in the public interest. As a royal reporter, I worked harder than any other at the Palace putting in place, and ensuring the application of, a series of criteria that had to be satisfied before a story would appear in my paper. For the past year I have had to remain silent but my aim now is to fight these allegations with every breath in my body in the hope that justice and common sense will prevail.”
During the hearing, Mr and Mrs Hardy appeared alongside Mr Larcombe in the dock. All three are charged with conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office between 9 February 2006 and 16 October 2008. A fourth person, Tracey Bell, 34, is charged with misconduct in a public office. Ms Bell was employed by the Ministry of Defence as a pharmacy assistant at Sandhurst Medical Centre.
Separately, a bodyguard for former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks appeared in court accused of conspiring to hide computers and other items from police investigating phone hacking and corrupt payments to public officials. It is alleged that David Johnson, 47, conspired – with six others already charged, including Brooks and her husband Charlie Brooks – to “conceal computers and other items” from officers investigating allegations related to The Sun and the now-defunct NOTW.
All defendants were released on unconditional bail to appear at Southwark Crown Court on 3 June.