FOUR senior Sun journalists expressed a mixture of relief and anger yesterday as their three-year “ordeal” ended when they were cleared of paying public officials for scoops, including titbits on the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry.
Chief reporter John Kay, 71, and royal editor Duncan Larcombe, 39, were found not guilty of wrongdoing over their contact with two military sources after a jury deliberated for more than 48 hours at the Old Bailey.
The Sun’s executive editor Fergus Shanahan, 60, and deputy editor Geoff Webster, 55, were also cleared over allegations that they signed off payments.
Afterwards, there were emotional scenes as the journalists embraced tearful family and friends who had supported them throughout the trial.
Outside court, Mr Larcombe called for the “witch hunt” against colleagues to end, and said he hoped that one day he would wake up from the “nightmare” he had been living since his arrest three years ago.
Mr Kay said: “It’s a great relief that a three-year ordeal is over. I just hope that this result bears fruit for other colleagues in a similar predicament.”
And Mr Shanahan added that the trial had been an “terrible ordeal” for the families of all those involved as he expressed his hope that future cases would end in the “right result”.
Mr Kay, Mr Shanahan and Mr Webster were charged with conspiring with Ministry of Defence official Bettina Jordan-Barber to commit misconduct in a public office between 2004 and 2012.
During that time, Mr Kay’s “number one military contact” pocketed £100,000 from the Sun for a stream of stories she sold to the tabloid newspaper.
Mr Webster also faced a second count of plotting misconduct with a serving officer in the armed forces in November 2010.
Mr Larcombe was charged with aiding and abetting former colour sergeant John Hardy, 44, to commit misconduct in a public office.
While he worked as a Sandhurst Royal Military Academy instructor between February 2006 and October 2008, Mr Hardy was paid more than £23,700 for providing Mr Larcombe with information on William and Harry and others on 34 occasions, the court was told.
The retired NCO was found not guilty of misconduct in a public office while his wife Claire, 41, who was accused of collecting tip-off fees for her husband, was cleared of aiding and abetting him.
The journalists’ acquittals will come as yet another blow to the Operation Elveden investigation into newspapers’ dealings with public officials.
Former Sun editor Rebekah Brooks was found not guilty of signing off payments to public officials last year.
However, last year, a News of the World reporter, who cannot be named for legal reasons, became the first journalist to be found guilty of paying a corrupt public official.
At the opening of the trial, prosecutor Michael Parroy QC said the case was all about the greed of public officials prepared to sell stories and a press “greedy for stories”.