Murdoch's Sun attacks police 'witch-hunt'

Murdoch`s Sun attacks police `witch-hunt` London: Rupert Murdoch's British tabloid The Sun on Monday condemned police raids against its journalists as a "witch-hunt" worthy of former communist states, and won rare support from rival newspapers.

The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, both non-Murdoch papers, also questioned the scale of the police operation after another five Sun staff were arrested at the weekend in a probe into alleged bribery.

Days before Murdoch was due to fly to London to reassure staff that he would not close it down, Sun associate editor Trevor Kavanagh said the paper was "not a 'swamp' that needs draining".

"Nor are those other great News International titles, The Times and The Sunday Times," he added.

"Yet in what would at any other time cause uproar in parliament and among civil liberty and human rights campaigners, its journalists are being treated like members of an organised crime gang."

Kavanagh, who was political editor at The Sun from 1984 to 2005, said that payments to sources were sometimes necessary to uncover stories in the public interest.

"Sometimes money changes hands. This has long been standard procedure as long as newspapers have existed, here and abroad," he wrote.

The police operation was now bigger than the one launched after the 1988 Lockerbie bombing of a Pan Am passenger jet, with 171 officers involved making it the biggest in British criminal history, Kavanagh said.

He said it was no surprise that Britain lags in 28th place behind former communist states Poland, Estonia and Slovakia in a recent world press freedom survey by Reporters Without Borders.

"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 wrote.

A Scotland Yard spokesman declined to comment on the criticisms.

Twenty-one people have now been arrested in the inquiry into alleged corrupt payments made by journalists to police officers and other public officials in exchange for information.