The Sunday Mirror’s editor personally taught journalists how to hack voicemails, a former reporter has told the high court.
Dan Evans told the phone-hacking trial that illegal activity was “bog-standard” at the tabloid newspaper. “The paper did dodgy stuff on basically every story and that is how we operated,” he said.
Andrew Green KC, the Mirror’s barrister, suggested that Evans’s recollection of events might be affected by the reporter’s heavy consumption of alcohol and drugs while working on the Sunday Mirror.
Evans replied: “That would be common to pretty much everyone else who worked on those newspapers.”
Evans was giving evidence in support of Prince Harry and other alleged phone-hacking victims, who are suing Mirror Group Newspapers. They claim illegal behaviour was widespread at the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and People and was approved by top executives including Piers Morgan. Morgan has denied all wrongdoing.
The reporter said he was the victim of “corporate grooming” in the dark arts of journalism, after joining the Sunday Mirror as a junior reporter in the early 2000s. Evans said he was taught to systemically hack celebrities’ voicemails by the Sunday Mirror’s then boss, Tina Weaver, and the news editor Nick Buckley, with the knowledge of the newspaper’s lawyers.
The journalist says he was made the Sunday Mirror’s dedicated phone hacker in 2003 after the previous occupant of the role left to join another newspaper. Evans then acted under the “tutelage and instruction” of Weaver and Buckley to build a phone-hacking database, with other journalists at the Sunday Mirror feeding him celebrities’ personal mobile phone and landline numbers to be hacked.
These numbers were stored on a PalmPilot, enabling Evans to systematically access the celebrities’ voicemails in the hope of finding stories about their personal lives.
The court has already heard allegations that Weaver, a former showbusiness correspondent, was personally involved in illegally accessing voicemails during the 2000s. She was arrested on suspicion of phone hacking along with other senior Mirror staff in 2013 but the case was dropped two years later, after the Crown Prosecution Service concluded there was “insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of a conviction”.
Phone hacking involved calling an individual’s phone number and attempting to guess the pin code that provided remote access to voicemails. Most people did not change the default four-digit code, making it easy for journalists to listen in on what was in their inboxes.
Evans, who went on to work for the News of the World, later admitted hacking phones and carrying out other illegal acts. He was given a suspended sentence after giving evidence against Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson at their phone-hacking trials in 2014.
The reporter told the court that the Sunday Mirror regularly used private investigators to illegally “blag” private records by phoning up organisations and persuading people to hand over personal details. Weaver allegedly ordered Evans to stop using one private investigator “not because it was illegal” but because she feared the individual would leak confidential tips and stories to a rival newspaper.
Evans denied his evidence to the phone-hacking trial was driven by a desire to pursue a personal vendetta and said he was tired by his involvement in phone hacking. “It has been a bane on my life,” he said. “It’s been extremely stressful. I’ve committed to seeing through an important process.”
He said illegal behaviour was “deeply entrenched” at the company.
Mirror Group Newspapers, which has already paid out more than £100m to settle phone-hacking claims, is disputing much of the evidence in this trial and argues that the claimants have waited too long to bring their cases.
The case continues.