Sun reporter trawled stolen phone for 'saucy messages' court told

A former Sun journalist told colleagues that he had found "flirty texts" from a celebrity on an iPhone lost in a Manchester nightclub a jury heard today.

Ben Ashford, 35, is on trial at London's Old Bailey charged with possessing stolen property and illegally accessing text messages and pictures from the phone in October 2009.

The journalist, the court was told, was arrested after emails he sent to other Sun staff were handed to police by News International's management and standards committee.

The phone's owner, who cannot be named for legal reasons, gave evidence yesterday that in 2009 she had her bag stolen while drinking with friend at Manchester's Circle bar.

A student, Samina Rashid later contacted the Sun via its website to say she had the phone and within a minute received a reply that the paper was "very interested" in obtaining it.

Ashford collected the device and later wrote to colleagues that he had "trawled through the phone" and found "x-rated photographs" and "saucy messages" between the phone's owner and a well known TV star.

The phone was later returned to its owner who contacted the police as she was concerned that the Sun would run a story based on its contents.

In another email to a fellow reporter Ashford wrote he had been "intentionally wooly" in his statement to the police telling them he had only accessed the phone to find out who the owner was, adding that he considered copying text messages from it was a legal "grey area".

Giving evidence in his defence, Ashford told the court he had begun his journalistic career at the Croydon advertiser before joining the Sun's Manchester office in 2007.

Asked what he could recall of the phone incident the journalist said at the time he had not thought he had done anything wrong, adding "everything is under a microscope now but at the time I didn't stop and consider."

The journalist also testified that after his arrest in 2013 he had lost his job in America which had led to his US visa being voided, "I couldn't even return for my belongings" he added.

Court then rose for lunch.

Mr Ashford denies both of the charges against him, the trial continues.

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