The Sun before Murdoch
The Sun was first published as a broadsheet on 15 September 1964, with a logo featuring a glowing orange disc. It was launched by owners IPC (International Publishing Corporation) to replace the failing Daily Herald. The paper was intended to add a readership of "social radicals" to the Herald's "political radicals". Supposedly there was "an immense, sophisticated and superior middle class, hitherto undetected and yearning for its own newspaper", wrote Bernard Shrimsley of Abrams' work forty-years later. "As delusions go, this was in the El Dorado class". Launched with an advertising budget of £400,000, the brash new paper "burst forth with tremendous energy", according to The Times. Its initial print run of 3.5 million was attributed to "curiosity" and the "advantage of novelty", and had declined to the previous circulation of the Daily Herald (1.2 million) within a few weeks.
By 1969, according to Hugh Cudlipp, The Sun was losing about £2m a year and had a circulation of 800,000. IPC decided to sell to stop the losses, according to Bernard Shrimsley in 2004, out of a fear that the unions would disrupt publication of the Mirror if they did not continue to publish the original Sun. Bill Grundy wrote in The Spectator in July 1969 that although it published "fine writers" in Geoffrey Goodman, Nancy Banks-Smith and John Akass among others, it had never overcome the negative impact of its launch at which it still resembled the Herald. The pre-Murdoch Sun was "a worthy, boring, leftish, popular broadsheet" in the opinion of Patrick Brogan in 1982.
Book publisher and Member of Parliament Robert Maxwell, eager to buy a British newspaper, offered to take it off their hands and retain its commitment to the Labour Party, but admitted there would be redundancies, especially among the printers. Rupert Murdoch, meanwhile, had bought the News of the World, a sensationalist Sunday newspaper, the previous year, but the presses in the basement of his building in London's Bouverie Street were unused six days a week.
Seizing the opportunity to increase his presence on Fleet Street, he made an agreement with the print unions, promising fewer redundancies if he acquired the newspaper. He assured IPC that he would publish a "straightforward, honest newspaper" which would continue to support Labour. IPC, under pressure from the unions, rejected Maxwell's offer, and Murdoch bought the paper for £800,000, to be paid in instalments. He would later remark: "I am constantly amazed at the ease with which I entered British newspapers".
The Daily Herald had been printed in Manchester since 1930, as was the Sun after its original launch in 1964, but Murdoch stopped publication there in 1969 which put the ageing Bouverie Street presses under extreme pressure as circulation grew.
Early Murdoch years
Murdoch found he had such a rapport with Larry Lamb over lunch that other potential recruits as editor were not interviewed and Lamb was appointed as the first editor of the new Sun. Lamb wanted Bernard Shrimsley to be his deputy, which Murdoch accepted as Shrimsley had been the second name on his list of preferences. Lamb was scathing in his opinion of the Daily Mirror, where he had recently been employed as a senior sub-editor, and shared Murdoch's view that a paper's quality was best measured by its sales, and he regarded the Mirror as overstaffed, and too focused on an ageing readership. Godfrey Hodgson of The Sunday Times interviewed Murdoch at this time and expressed a positive view of the rival's "Mirrorscope" supplement. "If you think we're going to have any of that upmarket shit in our paper," Murdoch replied dropping a sample copy into a bin, "you're very much mistaken".
Lamb hastily recruited a staff of about 125 reporters, who were mostly selected for availability rather than their ability. This was about a quarter of what the Mirror then employed, and Murdoch had to draft in staff on loan from his Australian papers. Murdoch immediately relaunched The Sun as a tabloid, and ran it as a sister paper to the News of the World. The Sun used the same printing presses, and the two papers were managed together at senior executive levels.
The tabloid Sun was first published on 17 November 1969, with a front page headlined "HORSE DOPE SENSATION", an ephemeral "exclusive". An editorial on page 2 announced: "Today's Sun is a new newspaper. It has a new shape, new writers, new ideas. But it inherits all that is best from the great traditions of its predecessors. The Sun cares. About the quality of life. About the kind of world we live in. And about people". The first issue had an "exclusive interview" with the Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, on page 9. The paper copied the rival Daily Mirror in several ways. It was the same size and its masthead had the title in white on a red rectangle of the same colour as the Daily Mirror. The Mirror's "Live Letters" was matched by "Livelier Letters".
Sex was used as an important element in the content and marketing the paper from the start, which Lamb believed was the most important part of his readers' lives. The first topless Page 3 model appeared on 17 November 1970, Stephanie Rahn; she was tagged as a "Birthday Suit Girl" to mark the first anniversary of the relaunched Sun. A topless Page 3 model gradually became a regular fixture, and with increasingly risqué poses. Both feminists and many cultural conservatives saw the pictures as pornographic and misogynistic. Lamb later expressed some regret at introducing the feature, although denied it was sexist. A Conservative council in Sowerby Bridge, Yorkshire, was the first to ban the paper from its public library, shortly after Page 3 began, because of its excessive sexual content. Shrimsley, Lamb's deputy, came up with the headline, "The Silly Burghers of Sowerby Bridge" to describe the councillors. The decision was reversed after a sustained campaign by the newspaper itself lasting 16 months, and the election of a Labour-led council in 1971.
The Labour MP Alex Lyon waved a copy of The Sun in the House of Commons and suggested the paper could be prosecuted for indecency. Sexually related features such as "Do Men Still Want To Marry A Virgin?" and "The Way into a Woman's Bed" began to appear. Serialisations of erotic books were frequent; the publication of extracts from The Sensuous Woman, at a time when copies of the book were being seized by Customs, produced a scandal and a significant amount of free publicity.
Politically, The Sun in the early Murdoch years remained nominally Labour-supporting. It advocated a vote for the Labour Party led by Harold Wilson in the 1970 General Election, with the headline "Why It Must Be Labour", but by February 1974 it was calling for a vote for the Conservative Party led by Edward Heath while suggesting that it might support a Labour Party led by James Callaghan or Roy Jenkins. In the October election an editorial asserted: "ALL our instincts are left rather than right and we would vote for any able politician who would describe himself as a Social Democrat." In the 1975 referendum on Britain continuing membership of the , it advocated a vote to stay in the Common Market.
The editor, Larry Lamb, was originally from a Labour background with a socialist upbringing, while his temporary replacement Bernard Shrimsley (1972–75) was a middle-class uncommitted Conservative. An extensive advertising campaign on the ITV network in this period, voiced by actor Christopher Timothy, may have helped The Sun to overtake the Daily Mirror's circulation in 1978. Despite the industrial relations of the 1970s – the so-called "Spanish practices" of the print unions – The Sun was very profitable, enabling Murdoch to expand his operations to the United States from 1973.
In 1979 the paper endorsed Margaret Thatcher in the year's general election, at the end of a process which had been under way for some time, though The Sun had not initially been enthusiastic for Thatcher. On 3 May 1979, it ran the unequivocal front-page headline, "VOTE TORY THIS TIME".
The Daily Star had been launched in 1978 by Express Newspapers, and by 1981 had begun to affect sales of The Sun. So bingo was introduced as a marketing tool and a 2p drop in cover price removed the Daily Star's competitive advantage opening a new circulation battle which resulted in The Sun neutralising the threat of the new paper. The new editor of The Sun, Kelvin MacKenzie, took up his post in 1981 just after these developments, and "changed the British tabloid concept more profoundly than [Larry] Lamb did", according to Bruce Page; under MacKenzie the paper became "more outrageous, opinionated and irreverent than anything ever produced in Britain".
The Falklands War
Front page of The Sun
(4 May 1982) in early editions following the torpedoing of the Belgrano.
This headline was published before it was known the sinking of the vessel had cost 368 lives.
The Sun became an ardent supporter of the Falklands War. The coverage "captured the zeitgeist", according to Roy Greenslade, assistant editor at the time (though privately an opponent of the war), but was also "xenophobic, bloody-minded, ruthless, often reckless, black-humoured and ultimately triumphalist."
On 1 May, The Sun claimed to have "" a British missile. Under the headline "Stick This Up Your Junta: A Sun missile for Galtieri’s gauchos", the newspaper published a photograph of a missile (actually a Polaris missile stock shot from the Ministry of Defence) which had a large Sun logo printed on its side with the caption "Here It Comes, Senors..." underneath. The paper explained that it was "sponsoring" the missile by contributing to the eventual victory party on HMS Invincible when the war ended. In copy written by Wendy Henry, the paper said that the missile would shortly be used against Argentinian forces. Tony Snow, The Sun journalist on Invincible who had "signed" the missile, reported a few days later that it had hit an Argentinian target.
One of the paper's best known front pages, published on 4 May 1982, commemorated the torpedoing of the Argentine ship the General Belgrano by running the story under the headline "GOTCHA". At MacKenzie's insistence, and against the wishes of Murdoch (the mogul was present because almost all the journalists were on strike), the headline was changed for later editions after the extent of Argentinian casualties became known. John Shirley, a reporter for The Sunday Times, witnessed copies of this edition of The Sun being thrown overboard by sailors and marines on HMS Fearless.
After HMS Sheffield was wrecked by an Argentinian attack, The Sun was heavily criticised and even mocked for its coverage of the war in The Daily Mirror and The Guardian, and the wider media queried the veracity of official information and worried about the number of casualties, The Sun gave its response. "There are traitors in our midst", wrote leader writer Ronald Spark on 7 May, accusing commentators on Daily Mirror and The Guardian, plus the BBC's defence correspondent Peter Snow, of "treason" for aspects of their coverage.
The satirical magazine Private Eye mocked and lampooned what they regarded as the paper's jingoistic coverage, most memorably with the mock-Sun headline "KILL AN ARGIE, WIN A METRO!", to which MacKenzie is said to have jokingly responded, "Why didn't we think of that?"
The Sun and the Labour Party
These years included what was called "spectacularly malicious coverage" of the Labour Party by The Sun and other newspapers. During the general election of 1983 The Sun ran a front page featuring an unflattering photograph of , then aged almost 70, claiming he was unfit to be Prime Minister on grounds of his age, appearance and policies, alongside the headline "Do You Really Want This Old Fool To Run Britain?" A year later, in 1984, The Sun made clear its enthusiastic support for the re-election of Ronald Reagan as president in the USA. Reagan was two weeks off his 74th birthday when he started his second term, in January 1985.
On 1 March 1984 the newspaper extensively quoted a respected American psychiatrist claiming that British left-wing politician Tony Benn was "insane", with the psychiatrist discussing various aspects of Benn's supposed pathology. The story, which appeared on the day of the Chesterfield byelection in which Benn was standing, was discredited when the psychiatrist quoted by The Sun publicly denounced the article and described the false quotes attributed to him as "absurd", The Sun having apparently fabricated the entire piece. The newspaper made frequent scathing attacks on what the paper called the "loony left" element within the Labour Party and on institutions supposedly controlled by it. Ken Livingstone, the leader of the left-wing Greater London Council, was described as "the most odious man in Britain" in October 1981.
The Sun, during the miners' strike of 1984–85, supported the police and the Thatcher government against the striking NUM miners, and in particular the union's president, Arthur Scargill. On 23 May 1984, The Sun prepared a front page with the headline "Mine Führer" and a photograph of Scargill with his arm in the air, a pose which made him look as though he was giving a Nazi salute. The print workers at The Sun refused to print it. The Sun strongly supported the April 1986 bombing of Libya by the US, which was launched from British bases. Several civilians were killed during the bombing. Their leader was "Right Ron, Right Maggie". That year, Labour MP Clare Short attempted in vain to persuade Parliament to outlaw the pictures on Page Three and gained opprobrium from the newspaper for her stand.
During the 1987 general election, The Sun ran a mock-editorial entitled "Why I'm Backing Kinnock, by Stalin".
Murdoch has responded to some of the arguments against the newspaper by saying that critics are "snobs" who want to "impose their tastes on everyone else", while MacKenzie claims the same critics are people who, if they ever had a "popular idea", would have to "go and lie down in a dark room for half an hour". Both have pointed to the huge commercial success of the Sun in this period and its establishment as Britain's top-selling newspaper, claiming that they are "giving the public what they want". This conclusion is disputed by critics. John Pilger has said that a late-1970s edition of the Daily Mirror, which replaced the usual celebrity and domestic political news items with an entire issue devoted to his own front-line reporting of the genocide in Pol Pot's Cambodia, not only outsold The Sun on the day it was issued but became the only edition of the Daily Mirror to ever sell every single copy issued throughout the country, something never achieved by The Sun.
In January 1986 Murdoch shut down the Bouverie Street premises of The Sun and News of the World, and moved operations to the new Wapping complex in East London, substituting the electricians' union for the print unions as his production staff's representatives and greatly reducing the number of staff employed to print the papers; a year-long picket by sacked workers was eventually defeated (see Wapping dispute).
"Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster"
"Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster", 13 March 1986
During this period, The Sun gained a reputation for running sensationalistic stories with questionable veracity. On 13 March 1986, the newspaper published one of its best known headlines: "FREDDIE STARR ATE MY HAMSTER".
The story alleged that British comedian Freddie Starr, while staying at the home of a writer and old friend of his named Vince McCaffrey and his partner Lea LaSalle in Birchwood, Cheshire, had, after returning from a performance at a nightclub in the early hours, found little to eat in their house. Starr put LaSalle's pet hamster, she was reported as saying, "between two slices of bread and started eating it".
According to Max Clifford: Read All About It, written by Clifford and Angela Levin, La Salle invented the story out of frustration with Starr who had been working on a book with McCaffrey. She contacted an acquaintance who worked for The Sun in Manchester. The story reportedly delighted MacKenzie, who was keen to run it, and Max Clifford, who had been Starr's public relations agent. Starr had to be persuaded that the apparent revelation would not damage him; the attention helped to revive his career. In his 2001 autobiography Unwrapped, Starr wrote that the incident was a complete fabrication: "I have never eaten or even nibbled a live hamster, gerbil, guinea pig, mouse, shrew, vole or any other small mammal."
Elton John and other celebrities
Fuelled by MacKenzie's preoccupation with the subject, stories in The Sun insinuated and spread rumours about the sexual orientation of famous people, especially pop stars.
Eventually resulting in 17 libel writs in total, The Sun ran a series of false stories about the pop musician Elton John from 25 February 1987. They began with an invented account of the singer having sexual relationships with rent boys. The singer-songwriter was abroad on the day indicated in the story, as former Sun journalist John Blake, recently poached by the Daily Mirror, soon discovered. After further stories, in September 1987, The Sun accused John of having his Rottweiler guard dogs' voice boxes surgically removed. In November, the Daily Mirror found their rival's only source for the rent boy story and he admitted it was a totally fictitious concoction created for money. The inaccurate story about his dogs, actually Alsatians, put pressure on The Sun, and John received £1 million in an out of court settlement, then the largest damages payment in British history. The Sun ran a front-page apology on 12 December 1988, under the banner headline "SORRY, ELTON". In May 1987, gay men were offered free one-way airline tickets to Norway to leave Britain for good: "Fly Away Gays – And We Will Pay" was the paper's headline. Gay Church of England clergymen were described in one headline in November 1987 as "Pulpit poofs".
Television personality Piers Morgan, a former editor of the Daily Mirror and of The Sun's "Bizarre" pop column, has said that during the late 1980s, at Kelvin MacKenzie's behest, he was ordered to speculate on the sexuality of male pop stars for a feature headlined "The Poofs of Pop". He also recalls MacKenzie headlining a January 1989 story about the first same-sex kiss on the BBC television soap opera EastEnders "EastBenders", describing the kiss between Colin Russell and Guido Smith as "a homosexual love scene between yuppie poofs ... when millions of children were watching".
In 1990, the Press Council adjudicated against The Sun and columnist Garry Bushell for their use of derogatory terminology about gays.
The Sun responded to the health crisis on 8 May 1983 with the headline: "US Gay Blood Plague Kills Three in Britain".
On 17 November 1989, The Sun headlined a page 2 news story titled "STRAIGHT SEX CANNOT GIVE YOU AIDS – OFFICIAL." The Sun favourably cited the opinions of Lord Kilbracken, a member of the All Parliamentary Group on AIDS. Lord Kilbracken said that only one person out of the 2,372 individuals with HIV/AIDS mentioned in a specific Department of Health report was not a member of a "high risk group", such as homosexuals and recreational drug users. The Sun also ran an editorial further arguing that "At last the truth can be told ... the risk of catching AIDS if you are heterosexual is 'statistically invisible'. In other words, impossible. So now we know – everything else is homosexual propaganda." Although many other British press services covered Lord Kilbracken's public comments, none of them made the argument that the Sun did in its editorial and none of them presented Lord Kilbracken's ideas without context or criticism.
Critics stated that both The Sun and Lord Kilbracken cherry-picked the results from one specific study while ignoring other data reports on HIV infection and not just AIDS infection, which the critics viewed as unethical politicisation of a medical issue. Lord Kilbracken himself criticised The Sun's editorial and the headline of its news story; he stated that while he thought that gay people were more at risk of developing AIDS it was still wrong to imply that no one else could catch the disease. The Press Council condemned The Sun for committing what it called a "gross distortion". The Sun later published an apology, which they ran on Page 28. Journalist David Randall argued in the textbook The Universal Journalist that The Sun's story was one of the worst cases of journalistic malpractice in recent history, putting its own readers in harm's way.
The Hillsborough disaster and its aftermath
front page on 19 April 1989. The allegations were later proven to be entirely false, with the Sun later admitting their decision to publish the allegations was the "blackest day in this newspaper's history."
Poster urging the Liverpool public not to purchase The Sun
At the end of the decade, The Sun's coverage of the Hillsborough football stadium disaster in Sheffield on 15 April 1989, in which 96 people died as a result of their injuries, proved to be, as the paper later admitted, the "most terrible" blunder in its history.
Under a front-page headline "The Truth", the paper printed allegations provided to them that some fans picked the pockets of crushed victims, that others urinated on members of the emergency services as they tried to help and that some even assaulted a police constable "whilst he was administering the kiss of life to a patient." Despite the headline, written by Kelvin MacKenzie, the story was based on allegations either by unnamed and unattributable sources, or hearsay accounts of what named individuals had said – a fact made clear to MacKenzie by Harry Arnold, the reporter who wrote the story.
The front page caused outrage in Liverpool, where the paper lost more than three-quarters of its estimated 55,000 daily sales and still sells poorly in the city more than 25 years later (around 12,000). It is unavailable in parts of the city, as many newsagents refuse to stock it. It was revealed in a documentary called Alexei Sayle's Liverpool, aired in September 2008, that many Liverpudlians will not even take the newspaper for free, and those who do may simply burn or tear it up. Local people often refer to the newspaper as "The Scum", with campaigners believing it handicapped their fight for justice.
The Sun has lost many millions of pounds in revenue in sales and advertising from the boycott on Merseyside. 
On 7 July 2004, in response to verbal attacks in Liverpool on Wayne Rooney, just before his transfer from Everton to Manchester United, who had sold his life story to The Sun, the paper devoted a full-page editorial to an apology for the "awful error" of its Hillsborough coverage and argued that Rooney (who was only three years old at the time of Hillsborough) should not be punished for its "past sins". In January 2005, The Sun's managing editor Graham Dudman admitting the Hillsborough coverage was "the worst mistake in our history", added: "What we did was a terrible mistake. It was a terrible, insensitive, horrible article, with a dreadful headline; but what we'd also say is: we have apologised for it, and the entire senior team here now is completely different from the team that put the paper out in 1989."
In May 2006, Kelvin MacKenzie, Sun editor at the time of the Hillsborough disaster, returned to the paper as a columnist. Furthermore, on 11 January 2007, MacKenzie stated, while a panellist on BBC1's Question Time, that the apology he made about the coverage was a hollow one, forced upon him by Rupert Murdoch. MacKenzie further claimed he was not sorry "for telling the truth" but he admitted that he did not know whether some Liverpool fans urinated on the police, or robbed victims.
On 12 September 2012, following the publication of the official report into the disaster using previously withheld Government papers which officially exonerated the Liverpool fans present, MacKenzie issued the following statement:
Today I offer my profuse apologies to the people of Liverpool for that headline. I too was totally misled. Twenty three years ago I was handed a piece of copy from a reputable news agency in Sheffield [White's] in which a senior police officer and a senior local MP [Sheffield Hallam MP Irvine Patnick] were making serious allegations against fans in the stadium. I had absolutely no reason to believe that these authority figures would lie and deceive over such a disaster. As the Prime Minister has made clear these allegations were wholly untrue and were part of a concerted plot by police officers to discredit the supporters thereby shifting the blame for the tragedy from themselves. It has taken more than two decades, 400,000 documents and a two-year inquiry to discover to my horror that it would have been far more accurate had I written the headline "The Lies" rather than "The Truth". I published in good faith and I am sorry that it was so wrong.
Trevor Hicks, chairman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, rejected Mr MacKenzie's apology as "too little, too late", calling him "lowlife, clever lowlife, but lowlife".
Following the publication of the report The Sun apologised on its front page, under the headline "The Real Truth". With the newspaper's editor at the time, Dominic Mohan, adding underneath:
It's a version of events that 23 years ago The Sun went along with and for that we're deeply ashamed and profoundly sorry. We've co-operated fully with The Hillsborough Independent Panel and will publish reports of their findings in tomorrow's newspaper. We will also reflect our deep sense of shame".
Liverpool FC supporters and a significant majority of the City of Liverpool's residents have continued to boycott the newspaper as a result of the Hillsborough tragedy. In February 2017, Liverpool FC blocked the access of Sun journalists to its grounds, banning them from on-site coverage of matches and direct participation in press conferences. The newspaper said the decision "is bad for fans and bad for football".
The newspaper was banned by Everton F.C. in April after The Sun published a column by former editor Kelvin MacKenzie the day before the 28th anniversary of the disaster which included a passage about footballer Ross Barkley that was considered "appalling and indefensible" and included a racist epithet and insults against the people of Liverpool. Access to the club grounds and facilities for Sun reporters were blocked. The Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson described the article as "disgrace" and a "slur" on the city. MacKenzie was suspended as a contributor to the paper on the day of publication.
"It's The Sun Wot Won It
": front page of The Sun
on 11 April 1992, after the Conservatives won the election
. The headline is regularly mentioned in debates about media influence in British politics.
The Sun remained loyal to Thatcher right up to her resignation in November 1990, despite the party's fall in popularity over the previous year following the introduction of the poll tax (officially known as the Community Charge). This change to the way local government is funded was vociferously supported by the newspaper, despite widespread opposition, (some from Conservative MPs), which is seen as having contributed to Thatcher's own downfall. The tax was quickly repealed by her successor John Major, whom The Sun initially supported enthusiastically, believing the former Chancellor of the Exchequer was a radical Thatcherite.
On the day of the general election of 9 April 1992, its front-page headline, encapsulating its antipathy towards the Labour leader Neil Kinnock, read "If Kinnock wins today, will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights". Two days later The Sun was so convinced its front page had swung a close election for the Conservatives it declared "It's The Sun Wot Won It".
The Sun led with a headline "Now we've all been screwed by the cabinet" with a reference to Black Wednesday on 17 September 1992, and the exposure a few months earlier of an extra-marital affair in which Cabinet Minister David Mellor was involved. A month later, on 14 October, it attacked Michael Heseltine for the mass coal mine closures.
Despite its initial opposition to the closures, until 1997, the newspaper repeatedly called for the implementation of further Thatcherite policies, such as Royal Mail privatisation, and social security cutbacks, with leaders such as "Peter Lilley is right, we can't carry on like this". The paper showed hostility to the European Union (EU) and approval of public spending cuts, tax cuts, and promotion of right-wing ministers to the cabinet, with leaders such as "More of the Redwood, not Deadwood".
The Sun attacked Labour leader John Smith in February 1994, for saying that more British troops should be sent to Bosnia. The Sun's comment was that "The only serious radicals in British politics these days are the likes of Redwood, Lilley and Portillo". It also gradually expressed its bitter disillusionment with John Major as Prime Minister, with leaders such as "What fools we were to back John Major".
Between 1994 and 1996, The Sun's circulation peaked. Its highest average sale was in the week ending 16 July 1994, when the daily figure was 4,305,957. The highest ever one-day sale was on 18 November 1995 (4,889,118), although the cover price had been cut to 10p. The highest ever one-day sale at full price was on 30 March 1996 (4,783,359).
On 22 January 1997, The Sun accused the shadow chancellor Gordon Brown of stealing the Conservatives' ideas by declaring, "If all he is offering is Conservative financial restraint, why not vote for the real thing?" and called the planned windfall tax, which was later imposed by the Labour government, "wrongheaded". In February 1997 it told Sir Edward Heath MP to stand down for supporting a national minimum wage.
Support for New Labour
The Sun switched support to the Labour party on 18 March 1997, six weeks before the General Election victory which saw the New Labour leader Tony Blair become Prime Minister with a large parliamentary majority, despite the paper having attacked Blair and New Labour up to a month earlier. Its front-page headline read THE SUN BACKS BLAIR and its front-page editorial made clear that while it still opposed some New Labour policies, such as the minimum wage and devolution, it believed Blair to be "the breath of fresh air this great country needs". John Major's Conservatives, it said, were "tired, divided and rudderless". Blair, who had radically altered his party's image and policies, noting the influence the paper could have over its readers' political thinking, had courted it (and Murdoch) for some time by granting exclusive interviews and writing columns.
In exchange for Rupert Murdoch's support, Blair agreed not to join the European Exchange Rate Mechanism – which John Major had withdrawn the country from in September 1992 after barely two years. Cabinet Minister Peter Mandelson was "outed" by Matthew Parris (a former Sun columnist) on BBC TV's Newsnight in November 1998. Misjudging public response, The Sun's editor David Yelland demanded to know in a front-page editorial whether Britain was governed by a "gay mafia" of a "closed world of men with a mutual self-interest". Three days later the paper apologised in another editorial which said The Sun would never again reveal a person's sexuality unless it could be defended on the grounds of "overwhelming public interest".
In 2003 the paper was accused of racism by the government over its criticisms of what it perceived as the "open door" policy on immigration. The attacks came from the Prime Minister's press spokesman Alastair Campbell and the Home Secretary David Blunkett (later a Sun columnist). The paper rebutted the claim, believing that it was not racist to suggest that a "tide" of unchecked illegal immigrants was increasing the risk of terrorist attacks and infectious diseases. It did not help its argument by publishing a front-page story on 4 July 2003, under the headline "Swan Bake", which claimed that asylum seekers were slaughtering and eating swans. It later proved to have no basis in fact. Subsequently, The Sun published a follow-up headlined "Now they're after our fish!". Following a Press Complaints Commission adjudication a "clarification" was eventually printed, on page 41. In 2005 The Sun published photographs of Prince Harry sporting a Nazi costume to a fancy dress party. The photographs caused outrage across the world and Clarence House was forced to issue a statement in response apologising for any offence or embarrassment caused.
Despite being a persistent critic of some of the government's policies, the paper supported Labour in both subsequent elections the party won. For the 2005 general election, The Sun backed Blair and Labour for a third consecutive election win and vowed to give him "one last chance" to fulfil his promises, despite berating him for several weaknesses including a failure to control immigration. However, it did speak of its hope that the Conservatives (led by Michael Howard) would one day be fit for a return to government. This election (Blair had declared it would be his last as prime minister) resulted in Labour's third successive win but with a much reduced majority.
Editorial and production issues in the 2000s
-branded newsagent shop
When Rebekah Wade (now Brooks) became editor in 2003, it was thought Page 3 might be dropped. Wade had tried to persuade David Yelland, her immediate predecessors in the job, to scrap the feature, but a model who shared her first name was used on her first day in the post.
On 22 September 2003 the newspaper appeared to misjudge the public mood surrounding mental health, as well as its affection for former world heavyweight champion boxer Frank Bruno, who had been admitted to hospital, when the headline "Bonkers Bruno Locked Up" appeared on the front page of early editions. The adverse reaction, once the paper had hit the streets on the evening of 21 September, led to the headline being changed for the paper's second edition to the more sympathetic "Sad Bruno in Mental Home".
The Sun has been openly antagonistic towards other European nations, particularly the French and Germans. During the 1980s and 1990s, the nationalities were routinely described in copy and headlines as "frogs", "krauts" or "hun". As the paper is opposed to the EU it has referred to foreign leaders who it deemed hostile to the UK in unflattering terms. Former President Jacques Chirac of France, for instance, was branded "le Worm". An unflattering picture of German chancellor Angela Merkel, taken from the rear, bore the headline "I'm Big in the Bumdestag" (17 April 2006).
Although The Sun was outspoken against the racism directed at Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty on television reality show Celebrity Big Brother during 2007, the paper captioned a picture on its website, from a Bollywood-themed pop video by Hilary Duff, "Hilary PoppaDuff", a very similar insult to that directed at Shetty.
On 7 January 2009, The Sun ran an exclusive front-page story claiming that participants in a discussion on Ummah.com, a British Muslim internet forum, had made a "hate hit list" of British Jews to be targeted by extremists over the Gaza War. It was claimed that "Those listed [on the forum] should treat it very seriously. Expect a hate campaign and intimidation by 20 or 30 thugs." The UK magazine Private Eye claimed that Glen Jenvey, a man quoted by The Sun as a terrorism expert, who had been posting to the forum under the pseudonym "Abuislam", was the only forum member promoting a hate campaign while other members promoted peaceful advocacy, such as writing "polite letters". The story has since been removed from The Sun's website following complaints to the UK's Press Complaints Commission.
On 9 December 2010, The Sun published a front-page story claiming that terrorist group Al-Qaeda had threatened a terrorist attack on Granada Television in Manchester to disrupt the episode of the soap opera Coronation Street to be transmitted live that evening. The paper cited unnamed sources, claiming "cops are throwing a ring of steel around tonight's live episode of Coronation Street over fears it has been targeted by Al-Qaeda." Later that morning, however, Greater Manchester Police categorically denied having "been made aware of any threat from Al-Qaeda or any other proscribed organisation." The Sun published a small correction on 28 December, admitting "that while cast and crew were subject to full body searches, there was no specific threat from Al-Qaeda as we reported." The apology had been negotiated by the Press Complaints Commission. For the day following the 2011 Norway attacks, The Sun produced an early edition blaming the massacre on al-Qaeda on its front page. Later the perpetrator was revealed to be Anders Behring Breivik, a far-right terrorist from Norway.
In January 2008 the Wapping presses printed The Sun for the last time and London printing was transferred to Waltham Cross in the Borough of Broxbourne in Hertfordshire, where News International had built what is claimed to be the largest printing centre in Europe with 12 presses. The site also produces The Times and Sunday Times, Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, Wall Street Journal Europe (also a Murdoch newspaper), the London Evening Standard, and local papers. Northern printing had earlier been switched to a new plant at Knowsley on Merseyside and the Scottish Sun to another new plant at Motherwell near Glasgow. The three print centres represent a £600 million investment by NI and allowed all the titles to be produced with every page in full colour from 2008. The Waltham Cross plant is capable of producing one million copies an hour of a 120-page tabloid newspaper.
In early 2011, the company vacated the Wapping complex, which in November 2011 was put on the market for a reputed £200 million. In May 2012, it was reported the Wapping site had been sold for £150 million to St George, part of Berkeley Group Holdings.
2009: The Sun returns to the Conservatives
Politically, the paper's stance was less clear under Prime Minister Gordon Brown who succeeded Blair in June 2007. Its editorials were critical of many of Brown's policies and often more supportive of those of Conservative leader David Cameron. Rupert Murdoch, head of The Sun's parent company News Corporation, speaking at a 2007 meeting with the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications, which was investigating media ownership and the news, said that he acts as a "traditional proprietor". This means he exercises editorial control on major issues such as which political party to back in a general election or which policy to adopt on Europe.
With "Broken Britain" controversies on issues like crime, immigration and public service failures in the news, on 30 September 2009, following Brown's speech at the Labour Party Conference, The Sun, under the banner "Labour's Lost It", announced that it no longer supported the Labour Party: "The Sun believes – and prays – that the Conservative leadership can put the great back into Great Britain".
That day at the Labour Party Conference, union leader Tony Woodley responded by ripping up a copy of that edition of The Sun, remarking as he did so in reference to the newspaper's Hillsborough Disaster controversy: "In Liverpool we learnt a long time ago what to do". One attack on Gordon Brown backfired at around this time. After criticising him for misspelling a dead soldier's mother's name, The Sun was then forced to apologise for misspelling the same name on their website.
The Scottish Sun did not back either Labour or the Conservatives, with its editorial stating it was "yet to be convinced" by the Conservative opposition, and editor David Dinsmore asking in an interview "what is David Cameron going to do for Scotland?". Dinsmore also stated that the paper supported the Union, and was unlikely to back the Scottish National Party.
During the campaign for the 2010 general election, The Independent ran ads declaring that "Rupert Murdoch won't decide this election – you will." In response James Murdoch and Rebekah Wade "appeared unannounced and uninvited on the editorial floor" of the Independent, and had an energetic conversation with its editor Simon Kelner. Several days later the Independent reported The Sun's failure to report its own YouGov poll result which said that "if people thought Mr Clegg's party had a significant chance of winning the election" the Liberal Democrats would win 49% of the vote, and with it a landslide majority.
On election day (6 May 2010), The Sun urged its readers to vote for David Cameron's "modern and positive" Conservatives to save Britain from "disaster" which the paper thought the country would face if the Labour government was re-elected. The election ended in the first hung parliament after an election for 36 years, with the Tories gaining the most seats and votes but being 20 seats short of an overall majority. They finally came to power on 11 May when Gordon Brown stepped down as prime minister, paving the way for David Cameron to become prime minister by forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.
On 24 August 2012, The Sun sparked a controversy when it published photos of Prince Harry taken in a private situation with friends while on holiday in Las Vegas, USA. While other British newspapers had not published the photos in deference to the privacy of members of the Royal Family, editorial staff of The Sun claimed it was a move to test Britain's perception of freedom of the press. In the photos, which were published on the Internet worldwide, Prince Harry was naked.
Fallout from the News of the World scandal
The Sun on Sunday
Following the News of the World phone hacking affair that led to the closure of that paper on 10 July 2011, there was speculation that News International would launch a Sunday edition of The Sun to replace the News of the World. The internet URLs sunonsunday.co.uk, thesunonsunday.co.uk and thesunonsunday.com were registered on 5 July 2011 by News International Newspapers Limited. A similar URL sunonsunday.com is not affiliated, having been registered in Italy on 24 September 2007.
On 18 July 2011, the LulzSec group hacked The Sun's website, where they posted a fake news story of Rupert Murdoch's death before redirecting the website to their Twitter page. The group also targeted the website of The Times.
A reporter working for The Sun was arrested and taken to a south-west London police station on 4 November 2011. The man was the sixth person to be arrested in the UK under the News International related legal probe, Operation Elveden. In January 2012, two current and two former employees were arrested. As of 18 January 2013, 22 Sun journalists had been arrested, including their crime reporter Anthony France.
On 28 January 2012, police arrested four current and former staff members of The Sun, as part of a probe in which journalists paid police officers for information; a police officer was also arrested in the probe. The Sun staffers arrested were crime editor Mike Sullivan, head of news Chris Pharo, former deputy editor Fergus Shanahan, and former managing editor Graham Dudman, who since became a columnist and media writer. All five arrested were held on suspicion of corruption. Police also searched the offices of News International, the publishers of The Sun, as part of a continuing investigation into the News of the World scandal.
On 11 February 2012, five senior journalists at The Sun were arrested, including the deputy editor, as part of Operation Elveden (the investigation into payments to UK public servants).
Coinciding with a visit to The Sun newsroom on 17 February 2012, Murdoch announced via an email that the arrested journalists, who had been suspended, would return to work as nothing had been proved against them. He also told staff in the email that The Sun on Sunday would be launched "very shortly"; it was launched on 26 February 2012.
On 27 February 2012, the day after the debut of The Sun on Sunday, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers told the Leveson Inquiry that police were investigating a "network of corrupt officials" as part of their inquiries into phone hacking and police corruption. She said evidence suggested a "culture of illegal payments" at The Sun authorised at a senior level.
World Cup 2014 free issue
On 12 and 13 June 2014, to tie in with the beginning of the 2014 World Cup football tournament, a free special issue of The Sun was distributed by the Royal Mail to 22 million homes in England. The promotion, which did not include a Page 3 topless model, was announced in mid-May and was believed to be the first such freesheet issued by a UK national newspaper.
The boycott in Merseyside following the newspaper's coverage of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 meant that copies were not dispatched to areas with a Liverpool postcode. Royal Mail employees in Merseyside and surrounding areas were given special dispensation by their managers to allow them not to handle the publication "on a case by case basis".
The main party leaders, David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, were all depicted holding a copy of the special issue in publicity material. Miliband's decision to pose with a copy of The Sun received a strong response. Organisations representing the relatives of Hillsborough victims described Miliband's action as an "absolute disgrace" and he faced criticism too from Liverpool Labour MPs and the city's Labour Mayor, Joe Anderson. A statement was issued on 13 June explaining that Miliband "was promoting England's bid to win the World Cup", although "he understands the anger that is felt towards the Sun over Hillsborough by many people in Merseyside and he is sorry to those who feel offended."
Promoted as "an unapologetic celebration of England", the special issue of The Sun ran to 24 pages.
Collapse of Tulisa Contostavlos' trial for drug offences
On 2 June 2013, The Sun on Sunday ran a front-page story on singer-songwriter Tulisa Contostavlos. The front page read: "Tulisa's cocaine deal shame"; this story was written by The Sun On Sunday's undercover reporter Mahzer Mahmood, who had previously worked for the News of the World. It was claimed that Tulisa introduced three film producers (actually Mahmood and two other Sun journalists) to a drug dealer and set up a £800 deal. The subterfuge involved conning the singer into believing that she was being considered for a role in an £8 million Bollywood film.
At her subsequent trial, the case against Tulisa collapsed at Southwark Crown Court in July 2014, with the judge commenting that there were "strong grounds" to believe that Mahmood had lied at a pre-trial hearing and tried to manipulate evidence against the co-defendant Tulisa. Tulisa was cleared of supplying Class A drugs. After these events, The Sun released a statement saying that the newspaper "takes the Judge's remarks very seriously. Mahmood has been suspended pending an immediate internal investigation."
Trial of staff for misconduct in a public office
In October 2014, the trial of six senior staff and journalists at The Sun newspaper began. All six were charged with conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office. They included The Sun's head of news Chris Pharo, who faced six charges, while ex-managing editor Graham Dudman and ex-Sun deputy news editor Ben O'Driscoll were accused of four charges each. Thames Valley district reporter Jamie Pyatt and picture editor John Edwards were charged with three counts each, while ex-reporter John Troup was accused of two counts. The trial related to illegal payments allegedly made to public officials, with prosecutors saying the men conspired to pay officials from 2002 to 2011, including police, prison officers and soldiers. They were accused of buying confidential information about the Royal Family, public figures and prison inmates. They all denied the charges. On 16 January 2015, Troup and Edwards were cleared by the jury of all charges against them. The jury also partially cleared O'Driscoll and Dudman but continued deliberating over other counts faced by them, as well as the charges against Pharo and Pyatt. On 21 January 2015, the jury told the court that it was unable to reach unanimous verdicts on any of the outstanding charges and was told by the judge, Richard Marks, that he would accept majority verdicts. Shortly afterwards, one of the jurors sent a note to the judge and was discharged. The judge told the remaining 11 jurors that their colleague had been "feeling unwell and feeling under a great deal of pressure and stress from the situation you are in", and that under the circumstances he was prepared to accept majority verdicts of "11 to zero or 10 to 1". On 22 January 2015, the jury was discharged after failing to reach verdicts on the outstanding charges. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced that it would seek a retrial.
On 6 February 2015, it was announced that Judge Richard Marks was to be replaced by Judge Charles Wide at the retrial. Two days earlier, Marks had emailed counsel for the defendants, telling them: "It has been decided (not by me but by my elders and betters) that I am not going to be doing the retrial". Reporting the decision in UK newspaper The Guardian, Lisa O'Carroll wrote: "Wide is the only judge so far to have presided in a case which has seen a conviction of a journalist in relation to allegations of unlawful payments to public officials for stories. The journalist, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is appealing the verdict". Defence counsel for the four journalists threatened to take the decision to judicial review, with the barrister representing Pharo, Nigel Rumfitt QC, saying: "The way this has come about gives rise to the impression that something has been going on behind the scenes which should not have been going on behind the scenes and which should have been dealt with transparently". He added that the defendants were "extremely concerned" and "entitled" to know why Marks was being replaced by Wide.
In a separate trial, Sun reporter Nick Parker was cleared on 9 December 2014 of aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office but found guilty of handling a stolen mobile phone belonging to Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh.
On 22 May 2015, Sun reporter Anthony France was found guilty of aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office between 2008 and 2011. France's trial followed the London Metropolitan Police's Operation Elveden, an ongoing investigation into alleged payments to police and officials in exchange for information. He had paid a total of more than £22,000 to PC Timothy Edwards, an anti-terrorism police officer based at Heathrow Airport. The police officer had already pleaded guilty to misconduct in a public office and given a two-year gaol sentence in 2014, but the jury in France's trial was not informed of this. Following the passing of the guilty verdict, the officer leading Operation Elveden, Detective Chief Superintendent Gordon Briggs said France and Edwards had been in a "long-term, corrupt relationship".
The BBC reported that France was the first journalist to face trial and be convicted under Operation Elveden since the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had revised its guidance in April 2015 so that prosecutions would only be brought against journalists who had made payments to police officers over a period of time. As a result of the change in the CPS' policy, charges against several journalists who had made payments to other types of public officials – including civil servants, health workers and prison staff – had been dropped. In July 2015, Private Eye magazine reported that, at a costs hearing at the Old Bailey, The Sun's parent company had refused to pay for the prosecution costs relating to France’s trial, leading the presiding judge to express his "considerable disappointment" at this state of affairs. Judge Timothy Pontius said in court that France’s illegal actions had been part of a "clearly recognised procedure at The Sun", adding that, "There can be no doubt that News International bears some measure of moral responsibility if not legal culpability for the acts of the defendant". The Private Eye report noted that despite this The Sun's parent organisation was "considering disciplinary actions" against France whilst at the same time it was also preparing to bring a case to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal against the London Metropolitan Police Service for its actions relating to him and two other journalists.
End of the Page 3 feature (January 2015)
The Sun defended Page 3 for more than 40 years, with (then) editor Dominic Mohan telling the Leveson Inquiry into press standards, in February 2012, that "Page 3" was an "innocuous British Institution, regarded with affection and tolerance." To mark the feature's 40th anniversary, feminist author Germaine Greer wrote an article in The Sun on 18 November 2010 published under the headline: "If I ask my odd-job man what he gets out of page 3, he tells me simply, 'It cheers me up'".
In August 2013, The Irish Sun ended the practice of featuring topless models on Page 3. The main newspaper was reported to have followed in 2015 with the edition of 16 January supposedly the last to carry such photographs after a report in The Times made such an assertion. After substantial coverage in the media about an alleged change in editorial policy, Page 3 returned to its usual format on 22 January 2015. A few hours before the issue was published, the Head of PR at the newspaper said the reputed end of Page 3 had been "speculation" only.
Apart from the edition of 22 January, the conventional Page 3 feature of a topless model has not returned, and has effectively ended.
Accusations of xenophobia
On 17 April 2015, The Sun's columnist Katie Hopkins called migrants to Britain "cockroaches" and "feral humans" and said they were "spreading like the norovirus". Her remarks were condemned by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights. In a statement released on 24 April 2015, High Commissioner Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein stated that Hopkins' used "language very similar to that employed by Rwanda's Kangura newspaper and Radio Mille Collines during the run up to the 1994 genocide", and noted that both media organisations were subsequently convicted by an international tribunal of public incitement to commit genocide.
In August 2017 The Sun published a column by Trevor Kavanagh which questioned what actions British society should take to deal with "The Muslim Problem". Numerous sources suggested the column used language reminiscent of Nazi propaganda and Nazi phrases. A joint complaint was made to the Independent Press Standards Organisation by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Tell MAMA and Faith Matters. A statement by the groups said "The printing of the phrase 'The Muslim Problem' – particularly with the capitalisation and italics for emphasis – in a national newspaper sets a dangerous precedent, and harks back to the use of the phrase 'The Jewish problem in the last century, to which the Nazis responded with 'The Final Solution' – the Holocaust". A cross-party group of over 100 MPs from the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens subsequently signed a letter to the editor of The Sun demanding action over the column. The letter stated the MPs "were truly outraged by the hate and bigotry" in Kavanagh's column.
On 9 March 2016, The Sun's front page proclaimed that Queen Elizabeth II was backing "Brexit", a common term for a British withdrawal from the European Union. It claimed that in 2011 at Windsor Castle, while having lunch with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the monarch criticised the union. Clegg denied that the Queen made such a statement, and a Buckingham Palace spokesperson confirmed that a complaint had been made to the Independent Press Standards Organisation over a breach of guidelines relating to accuracy.
The Sun officially endorsed the "Leave" campaign in the British referendum to remain in or leave the European Union on 23 June 2016, urging its readers to vote for the United Kingdom to leave the EU. The "BeLeave in Britain" front-page headline was only present on copies distributed in England and Wales; editions for Scotland, Northern Ireland (and the Republic of Ireland) led on other topics.
On 4 April 2017, The Sun printed a headline "Up Yours, Senors" (cross-referring the 1990 headline "Up Yours, Delors" regarding the ECU). It was in relation to disputes over the sovereignty of Gibraltar following the EU referendum. The middle pages featured a poster with the message "Hands off our rock".
In June 2016, a redesign of The Sun's website was launched.