THE former editor of the Daily Mirror Richard Wallace personally sanctioned phone hacking only to later deny knowledge of the illegal practice under oath to the Leveson Inquiry, the High Court in London has ruled.
The 57-year-old Fleet Street heavyweight – a protégé of controversial editorial predecessor Piers Morgan – told the judge-led inquiry into Press ethics in 2012 he knew nothing of claims of staff obtaining stories from people’s private voicemails.
But Britain’s leading media judge, Mr Justice Mann, found Wallace in fact oversaw a sophisticated surveillance program while Deputy Editor of the Sunday Mirror in 2004 – and even shared his private news-floor office with a specialist hacker.
“In evidence given to the Leveson Inquiry Mr Wallace… denied knowledge of phone hacking amongst the show-business team… the inaccuracy of this statement has been established for the purposes of this trial,” ~ Mr Justice Mann
Byline’s exclusive revelations come on the day victims of phone hacking lost an appeal against former Culture Secretary Matt Hancock’s decision to cancel the second part of the Leveson Inquiry, which could have re-examined Wallace’s evidence.
Yet Wallace is the second former Mirror Group national newspaper editor whose evidence to Leveson is facing new scrutiny after Byline revealed how former Sunday Mirror editor Tina Weaver gave “wrong” evidence.
Having seen MGN itself forced to reverse on entrenched denials of wrongdoing in the face of the evidence, Justice Mann reserved strong words for its conduct and also that of some of its most senior editorial staff.
He said: “I find that on the evidence I heard (which I accept did not include evidence from the individuals concerned) wrong, not just disingenuous, statements were made to the Leveson inquiry by at least two deponents, and that the newspaper group was indeed putting up what was in effect a strong denial, from which it has had to resile.“
Justice Mann set out Wallace’s knowledge of hacking after a landmark civil trial against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), in which he heard – and accepted – the testimony of whistleblower Dan Evans, who told how he was secretly trained to hack for the paper as a junior staff reporter.
The judge said: “The Sunday Mirror office was open plan, and in order to try to keep some confidentiality in relation to the activity Mr Evans would do it in one of the separate offices – that of the deputy editor… when Mr Richard Wallace joined the newspaper in that role he would still do it in the office, sitting across a table from Mr Wallace.”
Justice Mann went on: “In evidence given to the Leveson Inquiry Mr Wallace (by then editor of the Daily Mirror) denied knowledge of phone hacking amongst the show-business team.
“I have already accepted Mr Evans’ evidence that he sat across the table from Mr Wallace doing it, so it follows that the inaccuracy of this statement has been established for the purposes of this trial.”
Justice Mann delivered his judgment in 2015 while Wallace was on police bail and facing possible criminal charges for conspiracy to intercept communications. His name – and that of other senior MGN journalists involved in hacking – was blanked out in order to protect the integrity of any future fair trial.
But Wallace was never charged, after former Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders dropped the case due to “insufficient evidence” despite a multi-million pound police probe.
The full document – further ratified by the Appeal Court for its “very detailed findings of fact” on a “disgraceful” and “widespread culture of hacking” that extended from journalists to senior editors inside MGN – only emerged in full last month.
In it, Justice Mann told how Wallace received regular updates on the fruits of the Sunday Mirror’s phone hacking, and how widespread the practice was at the paper in the mid 2000s.
Of Evans, the judge said: “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’ (which meant to [among other senior journalists] Mr Richard Wallace after his appointment as deputy editor…) for consideration of what action to take about it.”
Justice Mann’s remarks against Wallace’s Leveson evidence raise questions about possible offences of perjury – punishable by up to seven years’ jail if proven – and breaches of the Inquiries Act, punishable by up to 51 weeks in prison and a fine of up to £1,000.
Last night the Metropolitan Police said it could not investigate any allegations of wrongdoing until it received a “referral”.