UK

Star Journalist On Trial For Paying Prison Officer For A Story About Bulger Killer Jon Venables

23/10/2014 20:34 BST | Updated 23/10/2014 20:59 BST
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391286 02: FILE PHOTO: Jon Venables, 10 years of age, poses for a mugshot for British authorities February 20, 1993 in the United Kingdom. Both Venables and Robert Thompson were 10 years-old when they tortured and killed 2 year-old James Bulger in Bootle, England. The government announced the release of the young men, now the age of 18, despite a public outcry to keep them in jail, June 22, 2001. The boys will be given new identities which a judge has barred the British media from disclosing. (Photo Courtesy of BWP Media via Getty Images)

James Bulger's killer's secret new identity was used by a tabloid reporter as a "codeword" to verify an anonymous source who rang up with stories about Jon Venables, a court heard. Daily Star Sunday reporter Tom Savage said it never occurred to him the contact he knew as Adam was in fact a serving prison officer but if he had known, it would not have mattered "in the slightest".

The 37-year-old is on trial at the Old Bailey accused of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office by paying Scott Chapman for snippets of information about Venables's time behind bars for child porn offences in 2010. Savage, who is originally from Cheshire, said he could not recall details of the first telephone conversation he had with Chapman in August 2010, except for Venables's new name.

He said: "It could have been I put it to him or he put it to me. I already knew that previously. It was a codeword. If somebody knew this, they knew what they were talking about." His lawyer John Ryder QC asked: "What went through your mind as to how he was getting this information - sitting in comfy chairs and eating chocolate?"

Savage said: "It could have been anybody with a connection to the jail, a prison officer's brother, drinking landlord. It could have been anyone from the governor to the cook." Mr Ryder said: "Did it matter to you whether he was or might be a prison officer?" Savage replied: "Not in the slightest."

Quizzed on why he mentioned a "jail source" in his first article, the defendant said: "A jail source is tabloidese. It could mean anything, like Mr Chapman said in his evidence, he was not recognising the quotes as being his own. You would take information and you would build it into an article and it would have a source quote in there that would not necessarily be verbatim.

"It's hard to say what might have come from him and what has been culled from other sources. It may have been he (Venables) earns twice the jail wages and the rest of it may be journalistic licence and taken from other previous published articles."

Mr Ryder went on to ask Savage about expense claims he made for trips to the region where Venables was being held. The journalist said he had never actually been there or met Chapman in person and the claims were designed to "get through money you would not otherwise get through on expenses".

He explained: "This is not fiddling the expenses. This is if you have lost the taxi receipt or taken a source out for a meal and what turned out to be £85 worth of champagne. You have a conversation with your bosses - news editors, slightly higher up - and decide to put it through as mileage so it would go through the payment structure of the office more smoothly."

Savage told jurors that he did not know that it might be a breach or contravention of criminal law for a prison officer to sell information to him. The journalist, who denies the charge against him, joined the staff of the Daily Star in January 2005 and moved onto the Daily Star Sunday in February 2011.

Chapman, 42, and his ex-partner Lynn Gaffney, 40, of Corby, Northamptonshire, deny misconduct in a public office. A News Of The World journalist, who cannot be named, also denies conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office. The trial was adjourned until tomorrow.