LONDON — Four senior journalists at the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sun were cleared Friday of bribing defense officials for tips, including information about Prince William and his brother Harry at Sandhurst military academy.
A jury deliberated for a total of 48 hours before finding former chief reporter John Kay, royal correspondent Duncan Larcombe, deputy editor Geoff Webster and executive editor Fergus Shanahan not guilty at London's Central Criminal Court.
It was the latest in a string of trials triggered by Britain's phone-hacking scandal — and one of several in which jurors have declined to convict reporters who paid cash for scoops.
At the start of the trial, prosecutor Michael Parroy accused "greedy" officials of selling "tittle-tattle and gossip" to sensation-hungry journalists.
But the defendants argued their stories were in the public interest.
Kay said the Ministry of Defense was "a very secretive department" that tried to suppress embarrassing stories — "things like equipment shortage, bullying, security issues, sex scandals and the like."
Kay's main source, defense ministry official Bettina Jordan-Barber, pleaded guilty to misconduct in a public office after receiving 100,000 pounds ($148,000) from the Sun between 2004 and 2012. She was sentenced earlier this year to 12 months in prison.
Another source — ex-Sandhurst instructor John Hardy — was cleared Friday, along with his wife.
Outside court, Kay said "it's a great relief that a three-year ordeal is over. I just hope that this result bears fruit for other colleagues in a similar predicament."
The charges stemmed from wide-ranging police investigations sparked by the 2011 revelation of illegal phone hacking at Murdoch's now-defunct tabloid News of the World.
Scores of journalists have been arrested, though only a handful have been convicted of wrongdoing.
The highest-profile casualty was former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, who was convicted last year of conspiring to eavesdrop on mobile-phone voicemails and sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Rebekah Brooks, a former editor of both the News of the World and The Sun, was acquitted last year of involvement in phone hacking and paying corrupt officials.