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Deputy editor on trial over hacking

Published 09/06/2015

Neil Wallis was Andy Coulson's deputy at the News of the World
Neil Wallis was Andy Coulson's deputy at the News of the World

Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson's deputy has become the latest of a string of journalists to go on trial for plotting to hack phones of celebrities.

Neil Wallis, Coulson's right-hand man between 2003 and 2007, is accused of being part of the scandal which led to the Sunday tabloid shutting down in July 2011.

The court heard that it was "inconceivable" that those above and below him in the newsroom all knew what was going on but he did not.

A jury at the Old Bailey was told that Coulson was convicted in the first much-publicised hacking trial but his predecessor Rebekah Brooks was cleared of conspiring to intercept messages.

A number of other staff at the News of the World (NotW) pleaded guilty of the same charge, prosecutor Julian Christopher QC said.

Opening the trial, he said Wallis was not accused of doing any of the hacking himself, but he knew it was being done and agreed to it.

Mr Christopher said: "The practice was so widespread at the NotW that it is inconceivable that the editor above him should have been involved, and those below him should have been involved, without him also knowing about it and being involved."

A phone-hacking journalist would recount one occasion when Wallis and Coulson were both played a taped voicemail recording setting a story in motion, he said.

And Wallis was included in a number of emails which referred "obliquely" to hacking, the prosecutor said, adding: "All those involved in the email plainly knew what was being referred to."

Wallis, 64, of Chiswick, west London, denies conspiracy to hack phones.

The jury was told that the phrase "phone hacking" was coined after the arrests in August 2006 of royal correspondent Clive Goodman and investigator Glenn Muclaire, who was paid around £100,000 a year by the NotW.

Searches of Muclaire's premises and a NotW safe revealed a number of recordings of voicemails.

The pair admitted hacking later that year but the conspiracy went further, the court heard.

Three news desk editors, a chief reporter and features editor have since admitted involvement.

Mr Christopher said an analysis of phone records revealed a vast number of calls made during this period on phones attributable to the paper and its staff to the mobile numbers of various celebrities, public figures and private individuals connected to the Royal Household.

Journalist Dan Evans, who was recruited to the NotW from the Sunday Mirror, has admitted extensive hacking and has agreed to give evidence for the prosecution, the jury was told.

The prosecutor said: "He will be able to provide a snapshot of what was taking place at the NotW under the stewardship of Andy Coulson at the top - and his deputy Mr Wallis."

Evans began work at the NotW in January 2005 when he was tasked with phone hacking straight away, the court heard.

On his first day, features editor Jules Stenson sent him a list of 700 names and a huge number of celebrity contacts.

The later arrest of Mulcaire and Goodman sent "shock waves" through the paper and some incriminating material was disposed of.

For a while Evans hid his list of phone numbers in a friend's attic. But in 2009, in a desperate attempt to get a story, he tried some of the numbers he had used successfully in the past.

Among them was designer Kelly Hoppen, stepmother of actress Sienna Miller.

She noticed someone had tried to access her voicemails - setting in train a series of events leading to Evans giving evidence in the trial.

The court heard how in the summer of 2004, Mulcaire's hacking uncovered then home secretary David Bunkett's affair with a married woman - codenamed at the newspaper as Noddy and Big Ears.

The first story exposing their relationship was published on August 15 with a follow up story later in 2004.

In 2011 police found five micro cassettes of recordings from the woman's voicemails in the safe of a NotW lawyer, the court heard.

Chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck was heavily involved in the story, the jury was told. It was significant enough at the NotW for Coulson to weigh in as well.

He went in person to confront Mr Blunkett at his constituency office in Sheffield a couple of days before publication, the court heard.

At the time, Wallis was on holiday in France but telephone exchanges with his boss show he "must have been involved" too, the prosecutor said.

In May 2005, the NotW turned its attention to Mr Blunkett's successor Charles Clarke. Then in July that year, the NotW became interested in Ms Miller's on-off relationship with Jude Law.

Evans not only hacked Ms Hoppen's voicemail in pursuit of stories about the Layer Cake actress, he also accessed Bond star Daniel Craig's messages.

Evans will say he played Coulson and Wallis a recording of a message from Ms Miller to Mr Craig saying "Hi, it's me. I can't speak, I'm at the Groucho with Jude. I love you", the court heard.

It allegedly led to the story headlined "Layer fake".

After hearing the message, Evans was taken by the elbow by Wallis who told him "You're a company man now", jurors were told.

Evans also use hacking to glean nuggets of information about the boxer Amir Khan and former England manager Sven Goran Eriksson, the court heard.

Mr Christopher went on to outline details of stories about Princes William and Harry which came from hacks of their private secretary Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton's phone.

In December 2005, Goodman made a transcript of a voice mail from Harry asking Mr Lowther-Pinkerton for help with an essay on the Iranian embassy siege during his time as a Sandhurst cadet.

The royal reporter allegedly emailed Wallis a draft story, telling him: "I'm going to hit the private secretary tomorrow to go toe to toe with Clarence House.

"I will get MoD (Ministry of Defence) involved too so they simply can't ignore it. As we know, it's 100% fact."

In April 2006, Goodman wrote a story about the then-Prince William's "drunken conduct" at his brother's passing out ball, partly based on a hacked voicemail from Sandhurst commandant Major General Andrew Ritchie to Mr Lowther-Pinkerton.

In the message, he said: "I would like to have a chat with you this morning , if you could ring me back, about an incident at the ball last night."

The court heard Wallis emailed Goodman about the story, asking: "Remind me how we know this to be true."

Mr Christopher also highlighted Wallis's reaction to the arrest of Goodman and Mulcaire in August that year as Coulson proposed issuing an "unreserved apology" to the princes and their aides for the "unacceptable intrusion".

Wallis emailed Coulson back saying it might be "difficult to brush off", adding that in the time between Goodman's plea and sentence the royal reporter could react and "throw a spanner in the works".

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