Media

'I'm not Leo Tolstoy, I'm a Sun journalist,' defendant tells court

By James Doleman |

August 11, 2014 | 4 min read

Proceedings resumed at London's Old Bailey this afternoon to hear further evidence from former Sun journalist Ben Ashford, who is facing two charges in relation to the possession and accessing of data from a mobile phone which was stolen from a Manchester nightclub in 2009.

The phone, the court has already heard, contained "saucy" text messages and explicit pictures exchanged between a woman and a well known TV celebrity, neither of whom can be named for legal reasons.

London's Old Bailey

Questioned by the prosecution over emails handed over by News International to the police, Ashford agreed he had written that he had been intentionally "woolly" when he gave a statement about the phone's theft but told the jury: "I wish I hadn't chosen that phrase as it's misleading, it's sounds a lot worse than it was."

He testified that this only meant he had not given any "extraneous" information when being questioned, adding: "This is an email I bashed out quickly, I didn't lie, I wasn't dishonest." Responding to a suggestion that as a professional "wordsmith" he would have been responsible for the words he chose, the defendant replied: "I'm not Leo Tolstoy, I'm a Sun journalist."

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Under questioning from Peter Wright for the Crown, Ashford defended meeting a contact to obtain the phone, stating: "The Sun sent me there, I was just doing my job." He added: "There was nothing I knew that they didn't know."

Asked what would have happened if senior staff had discouraged him, the former journalist replied: "I wouldn't have done it."

During re-examination by his own defence team, Ashford denied prosecution allegations that he knew the phone was stolen, telling the jury: "I am passionate about this; people might take away from this 'there is that dodgy journalist' - this will follow me around forever, I don't want to go down in history as a liar."

He added: "Even if I am found not guilty I don't think the HR department of any major newspaper will ever consider me for a job again."

Responding to a question about why he gave the name of the person who gave him the phone to the police, Ashford said that he did not regard the person as a confidential source and that he was just "trying to be helpful" to the investigation.

Guy Patrick, the northern news editor of the Sun, also testified today and told the court that he had worked with the defendant in the newspaper's Manchester office and described him as "trustworthy, honest and accurate".

He told the court that the north-west office received "round the clock instructions" from the London news desk and said it would be unthinkable for a journalist to refuse a request from them unless there was a risk to personal safety.

With all evidence having been heard, court will resume tomorrow with closing argument from the prosecution and defence and the judge's summing up, with the jury expected to retire and consider their verdicts in the afternoon.

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