By Graham Johnson
Editor, Byline Investigates
A REPORTER for The Sun carried a phone thought to belong to Formula 1 legend Michael Schumacher across England to hackers hired to access the star’s private text messages, the High Court has heard.
The paper’s former business editor Rhodri Phillips took the handset 290 miles to “forensic phone experts” in Preston and Gloucestershire in an effort to extract Schumacher’s private data, according to email evidence.
In a statement, Callum Galbraith, solicitor for alleged victims of unlawful newsgathering – which the paper does not admit – told how Phillips and news desk executive Chris Pharo discussed Schumacher in emails in 2010.
He said: “(There) is an email exchange between Chris Pharo and Rhodri Phillips about taking a sportsman’s suspected mobile phone to forensic phone experts in Preston and Gloucester in order to hack into it and retrieve text messages.”
Phillips, who in a separate criminal investigation was cleared of handling the stolen phone of MP Siobhan McDonagh, also in 2010 – an offence for which his Sun colleague Nick Parker received a three-month suspended prison sentence in 2014.
And at a case management conference on November 15, Parker was again named in court, this time as handler of the hackers tasked with accessing Schumacher’s messages, some three years before a skiing accident put the racing ace in a coma.
Claimants’ barrister David Sherborne said: “So this has Mr Parker’s involvement, Mr Pharo, Mr Phillips – Sun journalists in the period we’re talking about, 2010, with a mobile phone expert as well.”
Arguing for The Sun’s parent company News Group Newspapers (NGN) to be ordered to release further ‘Schumacher emails’, Mr Sherborne added: “It’s not just (about finding out the hackers’) identity.
“That wasn’t the prime reason necessarily. It’s that it will tell us more about what the activity is that they’re doing and whether this is, as I say, yet more unlawful information-gathering techniques used by a defendant that makes no admissions at all (about its allegedly illegal activities).”
Describing the contents of the email, Mr Sherborne went on: “It relates to a sportsman’s phone… It relates to the fact that they’ve got hold of this mobile phone and they are obtaining material from the mobile phone.”
The court heard that none of Phillips, Pharo or Parker, would be giving evidence at a trial of the facts due to start in February, and therefore cannot be cross-examined over their activities.
However, Justice Mann said more disclosures would not further assist the claimants’ case that NGN is guilty of widespread illegal news-gathering at The Sun and its defunct sister paper the News of the World.
He said: “I have been taken to some emails which show what they show about some apparent investigations into that gentleman (Schumacher).
“It is unnecessary, it seems to me, in the light of the emails that exist, to start looking for and disclosing the additional emails on the topic.”
The case continues…