The Sun (lost British newspaper's safe of unpublished photos, stories and videos; early 1980s-present)
The Sun is a British tabloid newspaper that has been in circulation since September 1964. Since being purchased by News Corp in 1969, it has become a daily newspaper since 2012. In 2014, following the fallout of the News of the World phone hacking scandal, six of its staff were on trial accused of corrupting public officials, known as the Sun Six Trial. During the trial, former deputy news editor Ben O’Driscoll claimed that the newspaper had a 7ft-high safe filled with over 30 years worth of unpublished photographs, stories and videos of people in the public life.
The Sun is one of the highest circulating newspapers in the UK, selling 1.13 million copies daily by March 2020. It is most notable for its sensationalist splash headlines, including the famous “Freddie Starr ate my hamster”, which reported that comedian Freddie Starr had eaten his girlfriend Lea La Salle's hamster in March 1986, with Starr claiming in 2001 that the incident was a complete fabrication. However, prior to the Sun Six Trial, The Sun had already experienced many controversies. Particularly, its coverage of the Hillsborough disaster, where it published a headline entitled "The Truth" containing allegations about Liverpool FC fans during the disaster that were later refuted, led to a major boycott of the paper throughout Merseyside. This boycott remains to this day, although the paper has maintained its popularity outside the region.
In January 2011, the Metropolitan Police began an operation entitled Operation Weeting that investigated allegations of phone hacking primarily by employees of The Sun's sister paper News of the World. This had ties back to 2005 when it was determined that phones of the Royal Family had been hacked. Over several months, it was revealed that personnel had for years been hacking into the voicemails of various politicians, celebrities and Royal Family members. By July 2011, it was also discovered that News of the World had hijacked the voicemails of murdered teenager Milly Dower, the mother of murdered girl Sarah Payne, the relatives of the victims of the 7/7 terrorist attacks, and deceased British soldiers. The resulting scandal led to the closure of News of the World on 10th July that same year after 168 years of publications, and the resignation of various people within News International.
Sun Six Trial and The Sun's Safe
Additionally, the Leveson Inquiry was launched to investigate not only phone hacking but also police bribery cases. This led to the Metropolitan Police opening Operation Elveden to investigate bribery and corruption within its ranks. By January 2013, it was reported that 22 journalists from The Sun had been arrested as part of the operation. Six of them would face trial in October 2014, coined the Sun Six. This included then-head of news Chris Pharo; ex-managing editor Graham Dudman; ex-deputy news editor Ben O'Driscoll; Thames Valley district reporter Jamie Pyatt; picture editor John Edwards; and ex-reporter John Troup. They would face charges concerning conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office.
During the trial, O'Driscoll claimed in late-2014 that The Sun held a 7ft high safe, which he claimed contained over 30 years worth of unpublished photos, stories and videos. Considering O'Driscoll stopped working for the newspaper in January 2011, this would mean the safe had contained such content since at least the early 1980s. He stated the stories were confidential, and generally featured MPs, celebrities, Royal Family members and other notable figures. He told the trial that the newspaper would carefully assess these confidential stories, with the editor determining whether they should be published out of the public interest. Although much of the content inside the safe was deemed by the organisation to be not in the public interest, O'Driscoll believed the material was "eye-popping", containing revelations about the involved individuals that O'Driscoll felt could have significantly increased The Sun's circulation.
On 16th January 2015, Troup and Edwards were fully cleared, while O'Driscoll and Dudman were partially cleared with the jury failing to reach verdicts on the remaining charges for them and against Pharo and Pyat on the 22th that same month. Nevertheless, a retrial began later that year, but by October 2015, Pharo and Pyatt became the last to have their charges be fully cleared. Of 29 cases against journalists, only The Sun's crime reporter Anthony France was convicted of aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office between 2008 and 2011. However, this verdict was overturned on 27th October 2016.
Theories regarding the Safe
On 22nd March 2016, Peter Jukes of Byline wrote a post detailing theories regarding the purpose of the safe, nicknamed the "Black Museum". He wrote that some have speculated what material could be dwelling in the safe, ranging from compromising photos of Royal Family members to evidence of potential crimes. He also claimed Rebekah Brooks, editor of The Sun from 2003-2009 and a prominent figure in the phone hacking scandal, had discussed to sources about the scandals hidden within the vault, naming some individuals as "Yewtree" type material. Jukes' sources claim that a film and photos of Queen Elizabeth II raising the Nazi salute as a child were held in the safe for years, before being published by the newspaper in July 2015. The Sun refused to state where it received the footage, but claimed it was of the public interest.
Jukes cited Hack, a book written by former News of the World journalist Graham Johnson, as possible evidence that the newspaper has hidden evidence of possible crimes. The book notably claimed the then-editor suppressed incriminating evidence regarding potentially paedophilic behaviour from sci-fi author Arthur C Clarke due to Clarke's relationship with Rupert Murdoch, owner of News Corp, although the editor involved denies the allegation. Similarly, The Daily Mail reported that The Sun had a police file on Cyril Smith, a Liberal Democrat MP who since his death has been accused of prolific child abuse, which may have been kept in the safe since at least 1982.
Alternatively, Jukes theorised the Black Museum's contents may contain scandalous material, but otherwise hold nothing that would incriminate affected individuals. It, of course, should be noted that none of these theories have been proven as of the present day, and with only Jukes having theorised its contents with the assistance of unnamed sources, scrutiny should be applied.
Providing Jukes' claim that the Cyril Smith file was in the safe is valid, the safe and its contents most likely dwell within the newspaper's Fleet Street offices as The Daily Mail reported that a burglary within the offices led to the newspaper's then-editor being found to have possessed a copy of it. Whether the materials still exist to this day or have since been destroyed remains unknown. Because of the nature of the material, it is extremely unlikely that most if not all of it will ever leak to the public.
- Guardian stating that 1.13m copies of The Sun were sold on a daily basis by March 2020. Retrieved 10 Nov '21
- Metro detailing the “Freddie Starr ate my hamster” headline. Retrieved 10 Nov '21
- Independent detailing The Sun's controversial coverage of the Hillsborough disaster and the subsequent Merseyside boycott. Retrieved 10 Nov '21
- Guardian providing a timeline of Operation Weeting arrests. Retrieved 10 Nov '21
- New York Times detailing the 2005 phone hacking scandal. Retrieved 10 Nov '21
- CBS News listing many of the politicians, celebrities and Royal Family members whose phones were hacked. Retrieved 10 Nov '21
- Guardian reporting on the hacking of voicemails from Milly Dower and phones from families of 7/7 victims. Retrieved 10 Nov '21
- Reuters article reporting that the phones of relatives of deceased British soldiers were hacked. Retrieved 10 Nov '21
- BBC News reporting on News of the World's closure. Retrieved 10 Nov '21
- Guardian listing those who resigned following the phone hacking scandal. Retrieved 10 Nov '21
- Al Jazeera reporting on the Leveson Inquiry. Retrieved 10 Nov '21
- Guardian detailing Operation Elveden. Retrieved 10 Nov '21
- Guardian reporting that 22 journalists from The Sun had been arrested under Operation Elveden. Retrieved 10 Nov '21
- Inforrm reporting on the Sun Six Trial. Retrieved 10 Nov '21
- Inforrm detailing the charges against the Sun Six. Retrieved 10 Nov '21
- Guardian reporting on O'Driscoll's claims of a 7ft high safe containing unpublished material. Retrieved 10 Nov '21
- Inforrm reporting on O'Driscoll's claims and how the material was assessed based on whether it was of public interest. Retrieved 10 Nov '21
- Press Gazette reporting on O'Driscoll's claims, including "eye-popping" reports, pictures and videos. Retrieved 10 Nov '21
- Press Gazette reporting on Troup and Edwards being fully cleared and O'Driscoll and Dudman being partially cleared. Retrieved 10 Nov '21
- Inforrm reporting on the Jury being discharged after not reaching a verdict in the Sun Six trial. Retrieved 10 Nov '21
- Guardian article reporting on the final Sun journalists being cleared. Retrieved 10 Nov '21
- BBC News article reporting on Anthony France's original conviction and sentence. Retrieved 10 Nov '21
- BBC News article reporting on Anthony France's conviction being overturned. Retrieved 10 Nov '21
- BBC News reporting on the Queen Elizabeth II film being released by The Sun, with Jukes' sources speculating it was in the safe for years beforehand. Retrieved 10 Nov '21
- Independent article reporting on the claims made by Hack. Retrieved 10 Nov '21
- Daily Mail article reporting on claims regarding the Cyril Smith police file. Retrieved 10 Nov '21
- Archived Byline article where Jukes stated theories regarding the safe. Retrieved 10 Nov '21