Royal editor at Murdoch's Sun charged over payments to soldier

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 24, 2013 11:08 AM

LONDON (Reuters) - The royal editor of Rupert Murdoch's biggest British newspaper is to be charged with conspiring to make illegal payments to a soldier based at a military academy when Princes William and Harry were training, prosecutors said on Wednesday.

The charge is another blow to Murdoch's British news empire which was rocked by a phone hacking scandal that led to the closure of the biggest Sunday paper and a painful overhaul of press regulation.

Duncan Larcombe, a senior reporter on The Sun daily, is accused of paying a sergeant and his wife for stories about the royal family and the prestigious Sandhurst military academy where the princes completed their officer training in 2006.

The Crown Prosecution Service said Larcombe, former sergeant John Hardy and his wife Claire Hardy, would be charged with conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.

Prosecutors allege that the couple received 34 payments totaling more than 23,000 pounds ($35,200) for stories related "mainly to the royal family or matters at Sandhurst" between February 2006 and October 2008.

Larcombe was arrested in April last year as part of an investigation into corrupt payments by journalists to public officials. Known as Operation Elveden, it is an offshoot of the long running phone-hacking inquiry that has shaken the British establishment.

Prosecutors said a fourth person, Tracy Bell, a pharmacy assistant at Sandhurst, will be charged with misconduct in public office. She is accused of receiving 1,250 pounds for five stories published in The Sun in 2005 and 2006.

The Sun's publisher, News International, is owned by Murdoch's News Corp.

All four defendants will appear in court in London on May 8. ($1 = 0.6542 British pounds)

(Reporting by Peter Griffiths; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)