THE MAIL on Sunday newspaper was today drawn into an emerging illegal newsgathering scandal when one of its top columnists was named in High Court papers as a phone hacking mastermind.
Tina Weaver, 53, who replaced Rachel Johnson – sister of Boris – as a star commentator for the mid-market tabloid last month, was listed among hacking conspirators at her previous employer Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN).
The Mail on Sunday itself was not named in relation to any unlawful activity at a Case Management Conference on Thursday for alleged victims of wrongdoing by MGN, heard by leading privacy and media judge Mr Justice Mann.
But in a witness statement to the court, claimants’ lead solicitor James Heath described the contents of three ring binders of evidence MGN was ordered to disclose to those suing for breaches of privacy and unlawful surveillance.
And he said: “That evidence provided detailed and highly incriminating email exchanges between numerous journalists at the Sunday Mirror… it showed for an extensive period of time voicemail interception was rife, known of and approved of by senior journalists and editors including Tina Weaver the Editor of the Sunday Mirror.”
It comes as claimants seek to widen the scope of investigation into wrongdoing by MGN, which so far has been focused on the criminal activity of intercepting voicemails, based on the testimony of a Fleet Street whistle-blower.
Mr Heath added: “Phone hacking was by no means the most important or fruitful of the Dark Arts.
“The phone bills from the last quarter of a person may well reveal more, and more personal, private information than the last seven days of voicemail messages.
“The voicemail messages would reveal a limited snapshot of a part of a person’s life based on who used voicemail as a method of leaving or receiving messages.
“The phone bills would for instance reveal the relationships a person was in (from the frequency and timing of calls); the people they were most close to (from frequently dialled numbers); the people they were in contact with; their bank or utility companies; whether they were thinking of moving house (calls to estate agents); or serious medical issues (for instance if they were making or receiving regular phone calls from a particular clinic, hospital, psychiatrist, or self-help group).
“Other Dark Arts would reveal just as much or more.”
Weaver edited the Sunday Mirror for 11 years but was sacked, alongside former Daily Mirror editor Richard Wallace in 2012 – whom Weaver married in 2016 – when the papers’ news operations merged. The pair were arrested on suspicion of phone hacking in 2013 but never charged with any offences.
Weaver has since gone on to become the Chief Executive of a high profile women’s health charity, which Byline is choosing not to name, but which has among its ambassadors at least one victim of Weaver’s phone hacking.
Neither the victim, nor the charity, has responded to our questions about Weaver’s appointment. Byline also contacted the Mail on Sunday and Mr Verity for comment but had received none at the time of publication.
However, a spokesperson for HMRC, which ensures charities are run only by ‘fit and proper’ persons, told Byline: “HMRC works in collaboration with charity regulators to ensure that tax relief is only given to those charities who are managed by fit and proper persons.”
The extent and sophistication of Weaver’s MGN hacking operation, which targeted thousands of victims, was detailed in a landmark legal judgment in 2015 – later verified at the Court of Appeal – but because of reporting restrictions her name was blanked out of it until October this year.
That judgment formed the cornerstone of a managed civil litigation that placed MGN under a legal burden to disclose a growing number of documents, from emails and its own internal phone call data – showing when journalists targeted individuals – to payment trails only now revealing an expanding web of private investigators MGN’s papers secretly used to steal the highly private information of thousands of people, potentially as far back as 1993 and as recently as 2010.
As MGN sets aside £80m to try and deal with the fallout from the crimes of its past, fingers are pointing at the newspaper publisher’s board, as victims question – and build substantial evidence to try and prove – whether it knowingly concealed wrongdoing for years in order to protect the PLC’s good name and profits.
Now, the true nature of MGN’s criminal news-gathering operations across all of its national titles is starting to become clear, and along with it details of the newsroom argot of a legal phenomenon known as Tortious Information Gathering(TIG).
Here’s the TIG glossary: