Fleet Street flocks to defend ‘true legend’ Sun reporter John Kay in corrupt payments trial

Former Sun chief reporter John Kay leaving the Old Bailey. Picture: PA/Lewis Whyld

Former Sun chief reporter John Kay leaving the Old Bailey. Picture: PA/Lewis Whyld - Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Ima

The Sun’s chief reporter John Kay was hailed a “true legend” today as Fleet Street friends and colleagues flocked to his defence over allegations of paying corrupt officials for stories.

The Sun royal photographer Arthur Edwards told his Old Bailey trial today that the two-time British Press Awards Reporter of the Year was on a “pedestal” in the industry.

He said: “I’m so proud to give evidence for John Kay.

“I’m just one of dozens at The Sun who would do the same. They would queue at the door. He’s done more for me that I have done for him which is why I’m here.”

The 71-year-old was a “true legend” who always took time to help young reporters and was considered a “safe pair of hands” by the Ministry of Defence, he said.

Kay’s reputation was such that even the Press Association - the agency “notorious” for checking accuracy - would have no problem following up exclusives bearing his byline, Mr Edwards said.

Press Gazette editor Dominic Ponsford told jurors that Kay was seen as a “straight dealing reporter” within Fleet Street.

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He added: “My impression over the years is that he is someone who despite his high position always has time to help the younger journalist.”

Daily Express editor Hugh Whittow, who worked with Kay in the early 1980s, gave a statement which was read to the court.

He said his former colleague had a reputation for “honesty and integrity” and his talent and professionalism could not be faulted.

The Drum writer Chris Boffey has worked in national newspapers for more than 40 years and known Kay for 30 of them, according to his statement.

He said he had the “highest regard” for the man who had been “a rival, a colleague and a good friend”.

Lord West of Spithead said in a statement that he had known Kay since 2002 through regimental press lunches when he was First Sea Lord.

He said Kay was “always scrupulous about what was on and off the record” and if he ever came across a story that “inadvertently threatened national interests” he would immediately stop work on it.

Defence lawyer Trevor Burke QC told the jury that Kay was the only journalist ever to be twice voted British Press Awards Reporter of the Year.

Apart from a matter in 1977, which was of “no relevance” to the proceedings, he is a man of “good character”, Mr Burke said.

Kay, of Asmuns Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, is on trial at the Old Bailey over his dealings with Ministry of Defence official Bettina Jordan-Barber in a period spanning eight years.

He is accused of agreeing for the tabloid to pay his “number one military contact” £100,000 in exchange for scoops and exclusives, including information about Princes Harry and William.

Kay is in the dock alongside royal editor Duncan Larcombe, executive editor Fergus Shanahan, deputy editor Geoffrey Webster, former Colour Sergeant at Sandhurst John Hardy and his wife Claire.

While working at Sandhurst, Hardy was allegedly paid more than £23,700 for providing Larcombe with information on the princes and others on 34 occasions.

Kay, Shanahan and Webster are charged with conspiring with each other and Jordan-Barber to commit misconduct in a public office between January 1, 2004 and January 31, 2012.

Shanahan and Webster allegedly authorised payments sometimes in consultation with then editor Rebekah Brooks, who was acquitted of plotting to commit misconduct in a public office.

Webster also faces a second count of conspiracy to commit misconduct with a serving officer in the armed forces between November 3 and November 6, 2010.

Hardy is charged with misconduct in a public office between February 9, 2006 and October 16, 2008.

Claire Hardy, who allegedly channelled some of her husband’s payments through her bank, is charged with aiding and abetting him.

Larcombe is charged with aiding, abetting, counselling and procuring John Hardy in the offence.

Kay, 71, of Hampstead Garden Suburb; Larcombe, 39, of Aylesford, Kent; Webster, 55, of Goudhurst, Kent; Shanahan, 59, of Felsted, Essex; and John Hardy, 44, and Claire Hardy, 41, of Accrington, Lancashire, all deny the charges against them.

The trial continues.