Sue Akers at the Leveson inquiry

Sue Akers: most of the resulting stories were 'salacious gossip'

The senior police officer leading the investigation into payments of public officials by journalists has told the Leveson inquiry that evidence suggested there was "a culture of illegal payments" at the Sun newspaper.

Metropolitan police deputy assistant commissioner Sue Akers said evidence obtained from News International emails, provided to police by News Corporation's management and standards committee, suggested "regular, frequent and sometimes significant sums of money" were paid to police and other officials that had been authorised "at a senior level".

Akers told the Leveson inquiry today that the Met's investigation, Operation Elveden, was now examining payments "not just to police officers, but a wide range of public officials ... in all areas of public life".

She said it appeared that "the journalists have a network on which to call at various strategic places across public life".

"There appears to have been a culture at the Sun of illegal payments and systems were in place to facilitate those payments," Akers told the inquiry. "Payments to sources were openly referred to at the Sun."

Akers also said there was evidence of cash payments to public officials being hidden by making them to a friend of the source.

She said the emails suggested that "this was not an odd drink or a meal" but "regular, frequent and sometimes significant sums of money".

"There's also mention in some emails of public officials being placed on retainers," she told the inquiry.

She said most of the payments she had seen evidence of had led to articles that were "salacious gossip rather than anything that could regarded as remotely in the public interest".

The Met launched Operation Elveden in June last year. A number of police officers and other officials have been arrested on suspicion of corruption under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906 and/or aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office. Journalists at the Sun have also been arrested, and released on police bail without charge.

Akers told the Leveson inquiry last month that the team working on Operation Elveden would be increased from 40 to 61.

Addressing concerns about sources' information being compromised, Akers said today: "Our whole objective is to identify criminality, it is not to identify legitimate sources."

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