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Police: Culture of illegal payments at Murdoch paper

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Singer Charlotte Church, center, arrives with her legal team at the High Court in London in a phone hacking claim against Rupert Murdoch's News International on Monday. Church received a 600,000 pounds ($951,000) settlement from News International after testifying that she was hounded by the company's journalists when she was a teen singing sensation.

LONDON -- Journalists at Britain's Sun newspaper paid large sums of cash to corrupt public officials, aware the practice was criminal, an inquiry into press ethics heard on Monday, revelations that could prove damaging to Rupert Murdoch's media empire.

The Metropolitan Police's Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers told Britain's media ethics inquiry that the newspaper openly referred to paying its sources and that such payments were authorized at a senior level.


"The current assessment is that it reveals a network of corrupted officials," Akers said.

The disclosures could damage Murdoch's News Corp if it gives ammunition to the FBI and other American government agencies that have stepped up their hunt for signs of illegality at the U.S.-based company.

"There appears to have been a culture at the Sun of illegal payments, and systems have been created to facilitate those payments whilst hiding the identity of officials receiving the money," said Akers, who is in charge of the investigation into phone hacking and police bribery.

A senior British police officer told Britain's media ethics inquiry Rupert Murdoch's News International had a culture of making illegal payments to corrupt public officials and used bullying, blackmail and hacking to get stories. ITN's Keir Simmons reports.

She said one of the journalists who had been arrested has "over several years received over 150,000 pounds ($238,000) in cash to pay his sources, a number of whom were public officials." She said payments to public officials went far beyond acceptable practices like buying contacts a meal or a drink.

Akers, who made her accusations a day after Murdoch launched The Sun's Sunday edition, said journalists paid not only police officers but also police, military, health and government officials. One official received a total of 80,000 pounds ($126,912) over several years, she said, adding that police also are investigating if public officials were placed on retainers by newspapers.

Undeterred by arrests and criminal investigations of his staff, media tycoon Rupert Murdoch launched the publication of a new tabloid, the Sunday Sun, He hopes to fill the gap left by the paper he had to close because of a phone hacking scandal. Annabel Roberts reports.

Police and News Corp. lawyers are combing through millions of emails for evidence of wrongdoing at The Sun as well as the News of the World. Dozens have been arrested or pushed to resign because of the scandal, including two of Britain's top police officers who were accused of not doing enough to get to grips with the tabloid's wrongdoing.

More arrests are possible.

'Sickened and disgusted'
On Monday, Charlotte Church, a former teen singing sensation, received 600,000 pounds ($951,000) from News International, a News Corp. division, in a settlement resolving her claim that 33 News of the World articles were the product of journalists illegally hacking into her family's voice mails.

Despite her legal victory, Church sharply criticized Murdoch's empire, saying years of tabloid intrusions followed by legal battles had horrified her.

"What I have discovered as the litigation has gone on has sickened and disgusted me. Nothing was deemed off limits by those who pursued me and my family, just to make money for a multinational news corporation," she said outside London's High Court, where the settlement was agreed.

Murdoch, meanwhile, has said practices at The Sun have changed.

In an emailed statement he said: "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 under way. 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."

Akers was giving evidence at the Leveson inquiry set up by Prime Minister David Cameron in the wake of the phone hacking scandal.

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Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.