UK

Phone-hacking trial: MoD 'released soldier details'

Rebekah Brooks file picture from 23/11 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Rebekah Brooks is one of eight people on trial at the Old Bailey

A senior army officer has dropped his claim at the phone-hacking trial that the Sun ran stories about some soldiers who had died in Afghanistan before their families had been told.

Brig John Donnelly told the Old Bailey that the MoD had published the details before the stories were printed.

Ex-Sun editor Rebekah Brooks is accused of conspiring to make illegal payments to officials for military information.

Mrs Brooks denies conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.

Mrs Brooks, who is a former News International chief executive, also denies the charges of conspiracy to phone hack and perverting the course of justice.

She is one of eight people on trial at the Old Bailey.

Platoon commander

As the trial entered its seventh week, the court continued to hear evidence about claims that Mrs Brooks conspired with others while she was editor of the Sun newspaper to make illegal payments to officials for leaked information about the military.

The jury has previously heard that MoD official Bettina Jordan Barber received £100,000 from the Sun for providing information that led to dozens of stories in the paper.

Brig Donnelly was asked about a front page story in the Sun on 6 October 2007 on the death in Afghanistan of Major Alexis Roberts, who had previously been platoon commander to Prince William at Sandhurst.

The brigadier told the court the Sun published the story "before we had an opportunity to fully brief the family" of Maj Roberts, who had been killed on 4 October 2007.

But he reversed this while being cross-examined by Jonathan Laidlaw QC, representing Mrs Brooks.

Brig Donnelly admitted he would not have made that criticism of the newspaper when he was shown, by the defence, an MoD document that was published the day before - 5 October 2007 - detailing who Maj Roberts was and how he died.

'Positive coverage'

The court has previously seen an email from Mrs Brooks to a senior reporter at the Sun approving payment to Ms Jordan Barber for information about Maj Roberts.

The court also heard that the MoD had published similar information about the death of a soldier who was subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross.

Details of Cpl Bryan Budd's death were released on 21 August 2006, the day after he was killed in action.

The Sun published a story about his death a day later, on 22 August 2006.

The court heard Mr Laidlaw describe the story as "very positive coverage".

A corner later ruled that the death of the paratrooper - during combat for which he was posthumously awarded the VC - may have been due to "friendly fire".

Det Con Jim Briddon told the court there was a record of payments from the Sun to Ms Jordan Barber relating to 71 stories.

He agreed with Mr Laidlaw that stories said to have Ms Jordan Barber as their source could be sub-divided into categories such as deaths in action, injuries in action, alleged misconduct, loss of Army property and the like, and treatment of troops and their welfare.

The trial was adjourned until 10:00 GMT on Tuesday.

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