A FORMER mayor of Tetbury has hit out at a police officer who took payment from a journalist for a tip-off about a story which featured in The Sun about him amicably swapping wives with his neighbour.

The tip-off was discussed at the News of the World phone hacking trial this week, where the former editor of The Sun, Rebekah Brooks was questioned about emails she received from a journalist asking her to okay payments for the stories, including Stephen Hirsts’ wife swap in 2007.

The court at the Old Bailey, heard that in the wife swapping story, an email specifically sought Ms Brooks' approval to give money to a serving police officer who had provided "numerous tips in the past".

It also heard how Ms Brooks was questioned about whether the cash was transferred to Thomas Cook in Cirencester for the journalist to hand over to the anonymous source to avoid a paper trail.

Mr Hirst, who is currently a member of Tetbury Town Council, said: “Anybody that delves into people’s private lives and profits from it is committing a despicable act. Especially as it is somebody in such a respectable job like a police officer who you would expect would not get paid money for providing information about so called sensationalised stories."

Mr Hirst explained he was interviewed by police at Scotland Yard, several months ago as part of Operation Elveden, which comprises Scotland Yard's investigation into allegations that journalists paid public officials for information.

Mr Hirst assisted officers in trying to identify the policeman who received payment for the story about the wife swap but said neither he or police were able to confirm the identity of the officer.

Ms Brooks told the trial she would only have sanctioned payment to a serving public official for a story relating to his work if there was a very strong public interest.

Prosecutor Andrew Edis QC suggested that the money was transferred to Thomas Cook to be collected by a journalist in cash and handed over to anonymous sources to avoid a paper trail.

Ms Brooks said this system was often used for convenience when journalists were abroad in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq.

"And Cirencester?" Mr Edis asked, referring to the mayor story.

Susan Hirst, Stephen’s wife, who was part of the wife swap explained that the two couples first became aware of the media interest in the story when the four of them noticed they were being tailed by a journalist when on a Mother’s Day trip to Bath.

“If we were in Scunthorpe or anywhere else in the country nobody would be at all interested but it is because we were located near the Prince’s home of Highgrove,” she said.