The associate editor of The Sun, Trevor Kavanagh, has claimed that its journalists are being treated like “members of an organised crime gang”.
In the wake of another five senior journalists on the newspaper being arrested in dawn police raids on their homes, the paper’s former high-profile political editor said at any other time the treatment of the journalists would have caused uproar at Parliament and among civil liberty and human rights campaigners.
The Sun’s five journalists were held over alleged corrupt payments to police and others.
In a feature article in today’s paper, Kavanagh said they were subjects of the biggest police operation in British criminal history - bigger even than the Pan Am Lockerbie murder inquiry.
He said 171 officers are involved in three separate operations, and claimed two officers on one raid revealed they had been pulled off an elite Olympics anti-terror squad.
"Instead of being called in for questioning, 30 journalists have been needlessly dragged from their beds in dawn raids, arrested and held in police cells while their homes are ransacked," he wrote.
"Wives and children have been humiliated as up to 20 officers at a time rip up floorboards and sift through intimate possessions, love letters and entirely private documents."
Kavanagh added that without any charges having been brought, it was important that people do not jump to conclusions.
Kavanagh also said the inquiry had even begun to disturb those of its critics who have been at least partly responsible for what many see as a "witch-hunt".
“The Guardian has raised questions about freedom of the Press. Its media analyst, Steve Hewlett, says that when it comes to paying for stories, no newspaper — "tabloid or otherwise" — is exempt.
“Yet in a quite extraordinary assumption of power, police are able to impose conditions not unlike those applied to suspected terrorists.
“Under the draconian terms of police bail, many journalists are barred from speaking to each other. They are treated like threats to national security. And there is no end in sight to their ordeal.
“Their alleged crimes? To act as journalists have acted on all newspapers through the ages, unearthing stories that shape our lives, often obstructed by those who prefer to operate behind closed doors.”
Kavanagh continued to say that it was correct for News International to co-operate with the police investigation and hand over evidence and added that it was important that parent company News Corporation protect its reputation in the US.
“But some of the greatest legends in Fleet Street have been held, at least on the basis of evidence so far revealed, for simply doing their jobs as journalists on behalf of the company,” he continued.
“Meanwhile, a huge operation driven by politicians threatens the very foundations of a free Press.
“We have three separate police inquiries — Elveden, Weeting and Tuleta.
“There is a Parliamentary inquiry and of course the free-ranging Leveson Inquiry into newspaper practices.
“The field is open to almost anyone with a grievance to deliver their two cents' worth, even touching unrelated issues such as Page Three.
“The process, costing tens of millions of pounds, threatens to roll on for at least another year and probably two.
“Interestingly, nothing on this scale is envisaged for the banking industry which has brought the nation to the brink of bankruptcy.
“Before it is too late, should we not be asking where all this is likely to lead? Will we have a better Press?
“Or a Press that has been bullied by politicians into delivering what they, not the readers, think fit?”