Aylesford Journalist Vows To Clear His Name

A Sun journalist from Kent vowed to clear his name after appearing in court today accused of bribing two public officials.

Senior royal correspondent Duncan Larcombe, 37, of High Street, Aylesford, said he was "shocked and disappointed" to have been charged with conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office by officers working on Operation Elveden, Scotland Yard's probe into alleged corrupt payments by journalists.

In a statement read outside Westminster Magistrates' Court in London by his solicitor James MacWhirter, Larcombe said: "I have been a journalist since the very week Princess Diana died.

"During my career, 12 years of which have been spent at the Sun, I have had the privilege to cover the Royal Family and have also risked my own life reporting on the work of our brave servicemen and women on the front line in Afghanistan.

"I hope to demonstrate that I am a responsible journalist who reported in the public interest.

"As a royal reporter I worked harder than any other at the Palace putting in place and ensuring the application of a series of criteria that had to be satisfied before a story would appear in my paper.

"For the past year I have had to remain silent but my aim now is to fight these allegations with every breath in my body in the hope that justice and common sense will prevail."

Sun executive editor Fergus Shanahan also appeared at Westminster Magistrates' Court today, having been separately charged with the same offence.

The public gallery was packed with Sun journalists and other supporters of Larcombe and Shanahan during the short hearings, including former News of the World deputy editor Neil Wallis,

Larcombe is alleged to have paid more than £23,000 to John Hardy, 43, who served as a Colour Sergeant at the Royal Military Training Academy at Sandhurst, and his 39-year-old wife, Claire Hardy, for stories relating mainly to the Royal Family or matters at Sandhurst.

Mr and Mrs Hardy, of Millbrook Close, Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire, appeared alongside Larcombe in the dock.

All three are jointly charged with conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office between February 9 2006 and October 16 2008.

Shanahan, 58, from Felsted, Essex, is separately charged with conspiring with a public official and a journalist to commit misconduct in a public office. He is accused of authorising a journalist to make payments to a public official.

A fourth person, Tracey Bell, 34, also appeared in court separately charged with misconduct in a public office.

Bell, of Co-Operative Street, Goldthorpe, South Yorkshire, was employed by the Ministry of Defence as a pharmacy assistant at Sandhurst Medical Centre.

All the charges have come as a result of investigations under Operation Elveden.

The defendants only spoke to confirm their personal details during the short hearings.

All were released on unconditional bail to appear at Southwark Crown Court on June 3.