By Dan Evans, Founding Editor
THE former editor of the Sunday Mirror Tina Weaver personally led a vast newspaper phone hacking conspiracy – but denied it under oath at the Leveson Inquiry, a newly released High Court judgment has revealed.
Weaver, 53, gave a sworn statement to Lord Justice Leveson in 2012 in which she insisted on having neither knowledge – nor even hearing “gossip” – about the illegal news-gathering practice while running the paper.
But, after reviewing evidence seized by Scotland Yard detectives, and also whistle-blower testimony, Britain’s top media judge, Mr Justice Mann, found at the High Court in London that Weaver was in fact a hacking mastermind.
He said: “In evidence given to the Leveson Inquiry Ms Tina Weaver, then still editor of the Sunday Mirror, denied knowledge of phone hacking or even of gossip of it.
“I have already found that she was involved in it, and she clearly had knowledge of it in the evidence I have referred to, and in the light of those findings this evidence was wrong.”
Justice Mann’s devastating judgment – made in 2015 but only reportable now after restrictions, intended to protect the integrity of any criminal trial, were lifted last month – suggests Weaver may have committed perjury, an offence carrying a maximum two-year custodial sentence if proven.
It also suggests she broke section 35.2a of the Inquiries Act – the offence of distorting or altering evidence – punishable by up to 51 weeks in prison and a fine of up to £1,000.
Weaver’s alleged crimes would have been uncovered at the proposed second part of the Leveson Inquiry, however former Culture Minister Matt Hancock cancelled it – subject to an on-going judicial review – in March this year.
“Their use of voicemail was such that many aspects of their personal, medical and professional lives were, to a very significant degree, laid bare in the voicemails they left and in the voicemails they received,” ~ Justice Mann
There, Lord Justice Leveson – or another senior judge – would have been able to review Justice Mann’s findings against Mirror Group Newspapers detailed in the so-called Gulati Judgment, named after hacking victim and former Coronation Street actress Shobna Gulati.
In it, Justice Mann named Weaver, a former award-winning reporter who went on to edit the Sunday Mirror for 11 years and deputy edit sister title daily The Mirror for three years, some 27 times for her role in the hacking of thousands of victims.
He said Weaver, who also sat on the industry self-regulator the Press Complaints Commission, and was until 2012 a director of its replacement, the Independent Press Standards Organisation, had a junior staff reporter, Dan Evans, trained to spearhead her paper’s hacking.
Evans volunteered to give evidence at the Gulati trial, having been a Witness of Truth for the Crown in earlier criminal trials against Fleet Street rivals at News Group Newspapers.
Accepting Evans’s testimony in its entirety, Justice Mann said: “Mr Evans’ evidence was also that she made it clear that Mr Evans’ job for the foreseeable future was to rebuild [a lost phone hacking] database.
“For this purpose Mr Evans was given hundreds of mobile phone numbers and other details, such as dates of birth. This information came from Ms Weaver and [a line manager].”
Justice Mann added: “It is plain that his activities grew over time as he managed to crack more and more PINs. He himself managed to crack at least 100 PINs.
“At least one other journalist had a bigger database than he did. If he got useful or interesting information from listening to a message he would pass it “up the chain of command” [to Ms Weaver].”
Justice Mann described the methods used to disguise phone-hacked stories, the impact of this on victims, and Weaver’s role in it all.
He said: “Information that was obtained from hacking would, if published, have its source disguised by attributing the source to a “friend” or “pal”.
“As will appear, this had a particularly caustic effect on the relationships of the victims. Sometimes the detail was changed so that a victim could not work out what the source was.
“Sometimes a comment was perceived as useful, and the victim, or a PR person, would be called to see if more detail could be elicited. Mr Evans said that Ms Weaver was particularly good at that.”
On the impact of hacking on its victims, he added: “They all spoke of their horror, distaste and distress at the discovery that Mirror group journalists had been listening, on a regular and frequent basis, to all sorts of aspects of their private lives.
“Their use of voicemail was such that many aspects of their personal, medical and professional lives were, to a very significant degree, laid bare in the voicemails they left and in the voicemails they received.”
He added: “They all spoke of the effect on their lives caused by the distrust that the newspapers’ activities engendered in them and those around them.
“When newspapers were publishing matters known only to a very few (sometimes only two) people, those privy to the information suspected others of leaking it. That led to distrust which had a very adverse effect on close relationships, including family relationships.”
“The fact that she gave her instruction is a demonstration of how high up, and how embedded, phone hacking had become in getting stories for the newspaper,” ~ Justice Mann
Weaver told Evans to hide evidence of the Sunday Mirror’s phone hacking, a strict liability offence under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which enjoys no public interest defence.
Justice Mann said: “Mr Evans received clear instructions from Ms Weaver about the need to cover his tracks for these unlawful activities.
“Those steps included… not listening to messages until they had been listened to by the victim… [not using] traceable phones for his activities… [not recording] PINs in electronic format.”
The judge went on: “If he transcribed a message to show to [his line manager] or Ms Weaver he would create and print the document on a computer without saving it.”
Justice Mann also told how Weaver feared her paper’s activities, ranged as they were on Members of Parliament, among many others, might alert MI5.
He said: “At one stage MPs were targeted, but Ms Weaver told Mr Evans to stop that because she did not want to risk attracting the attention of the security services.”
Justice Mann said Weaver’s involvement in hacking meant “knowledge of and participation in phone hacking existed at the highest level on the actual journalism… side of the business.”
He told how Weaver instructed Evans to get an “electronic box” similar to one used by a predecessor phone hacker at the Sunday Mirror to find PINs for targeted voicemail accounts.
He said: “The fact that she gave her instruction is a demonstration of how high up, and how embedded, phone hacking had become in getting stories for the newspaper.”
The judge went in to email evidence he said showed Weaver’s control over her paper’s phone hacking – and her own use of the technique.
He said: “Some demonstrate data being provided to her, and the only sensible inference in the context of this case is so that she could conduct some hacking activity herself.
“Otherwise it is apparent that the emails are passing to and from journalists and editors at all levels, and supports the inference that hacking was being carried out at all levels.”
Justice Mann also cited an email from Weaver about the actress Tracey Shaw, sent in April 2003, discussing her former husband Robert Ashworth at a time when their marriage was failing.
The email contained a phone number for Mr Ashworth, and the words: “It may be Robert ashworth’s tel but he’s answering … don’t call yet he’s answering.”
The “he’s answering” reference was taken to show Weaver wanted Evans to get into Ashworth’s voicemail, but that the phone was not at that moment in time going through to a voicemail box.
Mirror Group Newspapers has admitted liability for its activities, setting aside some £80m to deal with victims’ legal costs and compensation.
Weaver was arrested in 2013 by detectives from Scotland Yard’s Operation Golding, which investigated phone hacking at Mirror Group Newspapers.
However, she did not face any criminal charges after the then Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, controversially decided in 2015 there was “insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of a conviction”.
Weaver has gone on to become the Chief Executive Officer of high profile female health research charity Wellbeing of Women.
- Transparency statement: The author of this article has given Witness Statements in support of the Claimants in the Mirror Newspapers Hacking Litigation (MNHL)