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News of the World's former deputy editor Neil Wallis tearful as he is cleared of being part of phone-hacking plot

By Emily Pennink

The News of the World's former deputy editor tearfully accused police and prosecutors of a "vicious politically-driven" campaign against the press after he was cleared of being part of the phone-hacking plot.

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

An Old Bailey jury deliberated for four days before finding 64-year-old Mr Wallis, of Chiswick, west London, not guilty of conspiring to hack phones.

As he walked free from court, Mr Wallis told reporters that the case had "ruined" his life, as he deflected blame from his old boss Coulson and heaped it on to Operation Weeting detectives and the Crown Prosecution Service.

He said "Four years. Four years after I was arrested, I finally walk out of here a free man. It's cost me and my family most of our life savings.

"It's ruined my life all because of a vicious politically-driven campaign against the press launched by (former director of public prosecutions) Keir Starmer and (his then principal legal adviser) Alison Levitt.

"This is the culmination of a political drive by the police and the CPS. It's a disgrace."

Mr Wallis went on to thank his legal team, before adding: "I just want to say I will never get over this. I've been virtually unable to work for four years.

"It's taken my health, my family's health and all because of a campaign against journalists."

Asked by a broadcaster if he blamed Coulson for landing him in the dock, he replied: "I believe the people who got me into this situation were the CPS and Operation Weeting detectives who, when I was arrested, talked to me about Milly Dowler - basic detective research would have shown I was not even working."

Mr Wallis is the last of the journalists from the tabloid to face legal action over the hacking it deployed in the hunt for exclusive stories on celebrities, royals and politicians.

The prosecution said it was inconceivable that he did not know what was going on at the NotW since his boss and a number of other journalists in the newsroom had all been convicted of their involvement.

Among the high profile figures targeted by the NotW were princes William and Harry during their training at Sandhurst.

Former home secretary David Blunkett's secret affair with a married woman was exposed through hacking as was actress Sienna Miller's alleged fling with Bond star Daniel Craig.

The practice was first exposed in 2006 when NotW royal correspondent Clive Goodman and £100,000-a-year private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were convicted of hacking.

It resurfaced in 2009 when features writer Dan Evans got caught in the act listening in on the voicemails of Ms Miller's former stepmother Kelly Hoppen.

Then in 2011, the newspaper was shut down by Rupert Murdoch in the wake of public outrage that missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler's phone was hacked, which happened before Wallis's time as deputy.

Since its closure, a total of eight journalists, including Coulson, have been convicted of being part of the hacking plot.

Mr Wallis's trial had heard how in the summer of 2004, the NotW broke the news of Mr Blunkett's affair with a married woman - referred to at the newspaper by the code names Noddy and Big Ears.

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

In July 2005, the NotW broke a story about Ms Miller's alleged fling with her Layer Cake co-star Craig after Evans picked up her message to him saying "Hi, it's me. I can't speak, I'm at the Groucho with Jude. I love you".

After hearing the message, Mr Wallis told him "You're a company man now", Evans had claimed.

In April 2006, Goodman wrote a story about then-Prince William's "drunken conduct" based on a hacked message from Sandhurst commandant Major General Andrew Ritchie to royal aide Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton.

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

But in his defence, he denied being involved in the hacking plot, saying he was not concerned with the details of the sources of big stories after they had already been vetted by company lawyers.

He told the jury that at the time Mr Blunkett's affair with a married woman was exposed through phone hacking, his boss Coulson had misled him into believing the information had come from a well-placed source.

He also highlighted his work on the newspaper's behalf drawing up amendments to the Press Complaints Commission editors' code of practice.

On hearing the verdict Wallis tweeted: "Thanks so so much to all those who stood by me - so grateful. Still standing."

After speaking to reporters outside court, he left saying he was "going off to have a drink".

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