What do the latest allegations mean for the Sun?

Police chief Sue Akers has claimed that there was a "culture of illegal payments" to public official

The Sun appears to be riding high after the launch of a Sunday edition yesterday made the paper the first in the UK to be published seven days a week. It reportedly sold 3 million copies. But just one day later, the head of the police investigations into phone hacking and bribery by journalists has told the Leveson Inquiry that there was a "culture of illegal payments" at the newspaper.

The deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sue Akers, said that one public official had received a total of more than £80,000 from the Sun in return for information, while regular "retainers" were being paid to police and other officials and one journalist had been given over £150,000 to pay his sources over a number of years. She said that there was evidence that some of these payments were authorised at a "senior level".

There appears to have been a culture at the Sun of illegal payments, and systems have been created to facilitate such payments whilst hiding the dentity of the officials receiving the money.

Her testimony follows the arrest of 10 Sun staff on allegations of corruption earlier this month. Some of these journalists have claimed that all they were guilty of is buying lunch for contacts -- which Akers rejected:

The cases we are investigating are not ones involving the odd drink, or meal, to police officers or other public officials. Instead, these are cases in which arrests have been made involving the delivery of regular, frequent and sometimes significant sums of money to small numbers of public officials by journalists.

She said that Operation Elvedon, which is looking into bribery by journalists, was still in the process of working out the identity of recipients of the cash:

The emails indicate that payments to "sources" were openly referred to within the Sun ... There is a recognition by the journalists that this behaviour is illegal, reference being made to staff "risking losing their pension or job", to the need for "care" and to the need for "cash payments". There is also an indication of "tradecraft", ie hiding cash payments to "sources" by making them to a friend or relative of the source.

Until these arrests, most of the attention had been on the News of the World, which was closed in July after evidence of phone-hacking emerged. Interestingly, Akers said that the decision to broaden the investigation to the Sun had come from News Corporation's management and standards committee (MSC). "This review had not been requested by the [Metropolitan Police]," she said.

In addition to those 10 Sun journalists, emails handed over by the MSC have led to the arrests of two police officers, an employee at the Ministry of Defence, an army officer, and the relative of a public official.

What does this mean for the Sun? Well, it is highly unlikely it will go the way of the News of the World. The launch of the Sun on Sunday signifies Murdoch's faith in the newspaper and its continued commercial viability. Let's not forget that when the launch was announced, the arrests had already been made. On informing staff of the new paper, Murdoch said that "we will obey the law".

However, Akers' allegations could have serious ramifications for the rest of Murdoch's empire. She said the alleged corruption was systemic and endorsed by senior executives, meaning that it falls within the remit of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. This could result in fines of hundreds of millions of pounds for News Corp.

As David Allen Green points out, these are still just allegations. But as allegations go, these are incredibly serious. The pressure on the Murdoch group is not going anywhere.

UPDATE: Rupert Murdoch has issued the following statement in response to Akers' claims.

As I've made very clear, we have vowed to do everything we can to get to the bottom of prior wrongdoings in order to set us on the right path for the future. That process is well underway. The practices Sue Akers described at the Leveson inquiry are ones of the past, and no longer exist at the Sun. We have already emerged a stronger company.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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“It was like a religious ceremony”: What happened at Big Ben’s final bong?

Both inside and outside Parliament, people gathered to hear the clock’s final midday chime before undergoing repairs.

“It’s just hacks everywhere,” a photographer sighs, jamming his lens through a gap in Parliament’s railings to try and get a closer look.

New Palace Yard, Parliament’s courtyard directly below Big Ben, is filling with amused-looking journalists, waiting for the MPs who have promised to hold a “silent vigil”, heads bowed, to mark Big Ben’s final chime before four years of silence while the tower’s repaired.

About four of them turn up. Two by accident.

It’s five minutes to twelve. Tourists are gathering outside Westminster Tube, as tourists do best. A bigger crowd fills Parliament Square. More people than expected congregate outside, even if it’s the opposite within the Palace. The world and his phone are gazing up at the sad, resigned clock face.

“It’s quite controversial, isn’t it?” one elderly woman in an anorak asks her friend. They shrug and walk off. “Do you know what is this?” an Italian tourist politely asks the tiny press pack, gesturing to the courtyard. No one replies. It’s a good question.

“This is the last time,” says another tourist, elated, Instagram-poised.

“DING DONG DING DONG,” the old bell begins.

Heads down, phones up.

It finishes the on-the-hour tune for the last time, and then gives its much-anticipated resignation statement:


Applause, cheers, and even some tears.

But while the silly-seasoned journalists snigger, the crowd is enthusiastic.

“It’s quite emotional,” says David Lear, a 52-year-old carer from Essex, who came up to London today with his work and waited 45 minutes beneath Big Ben to hear it chime.

He feels “very, very sad” that the bell is falling silent, and finds the MPs’ vigil respectful. “I think lots of people feel quite strongly about it. I don’t know why they’re doing it. During the war it carries on, and then they turn it off for a health and safety reason.”

“I don’t know why they can’t have some speakers half way down it and just play the chime,” he adds. “So many tourists come especially to listen to the chime, they gather round here, getting ready for it to go – and they’re going to switch it off. It’s crazy.”

Indeed, most of the surrounding crowd appears to be made up of tourists. “I think that it was gorgeous, because I’ve never heard him,” smiles Cora, an 18-year-old German tourist. “It was a great experience.”

An Australian couple in their sixties called Jane and Gary are visiting London for a week. “It was like a religious ceremony, everybody went quiet,” laughs Gary. “I hope they don’t forget where they put the keys to start it again in four years’ time.”

“When we first got here, the first thing we did was come to see it,” adds Jane, who is also positive about the MPs who turned up to watch. “I think it’s good they showed a bit of respect. Because they don’t usually show much respect, do they?”

And, as MPs mouthing off about Big Ben are challenged on their contrasting reactions to Grenfell, that is precisely the problem with an otherwise innocent show of sentimentality.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.