Two judges strongly criticised the methods of the News of the World newspaper yesterday, after the collapse of a drugs trial and the jailing of a fantasist who claimed she was raped.

Charges against pop singer Brian Harvey were dropped after the prosecution said the main witness, who had been paid £15,000 by the News of the World, had disappeared. Judge Gareth Hawkesworth told Mr Harvey: “You leave this court without a stain on your character. May this be a salutary lesson to the proprietors of that newspaper.”

In the other case, Nadine Milroy-Sloan, who was jailed for fabricating allegations against a couple, was paid £50,000 by the News of the World. Judge Simon Smith said: “It is becoming all too easy for people to sell allegations about well-known people to the press and the courts have got to deal with it.”

The criticisms come only two weeks after the newspaper was reported, also by Judge Simon Smith, to the Attorney General after the collapse of the prosecution of five men for allegedly plotting to kidnap Victoria Beckham. The judge heard that the News of the World paid £10,000 to a convicted criminal, Florim Gashi, for his story amid defence claims that he actually encouraged the accused men to dream up the plot.

On Monday, the Commons Select Committee on Culture and Media, which has been conducting an inquiry into press intrusion, is expected to recommend an end to self-regulation of the newspaper industry and greater powers for Ofcom, the new media regulator, to supervise the work of the Press Complaints Commission.

At Chelmsford Crown Court yesterday, Mr Harvey’s lawyer, Stephen Ferguson, said the former East 17 singer had been arrested solely because of an article in the News of the World and said the Crown Prosecution Service should conduct a “root and branch investigation” into how the case had come to court. Mr Harvey had charges of possessing and supplying cocaine dropped after the prosecution offered no evidence. The court was told that the main witness, Kemal Zorba, was refusing to attend to give evidence and had gone abroad with the money.

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