Full disclosure: The court case reported below has heard references to witness statements given by Graham Johnson and Dan Evans, in support of the claimants, who are suing the Mirror Group (now Reach PLC) for phone hacking and unlawful information gathering. Mr. Johnson is the former Investigations Editor at the Sunday Mirror. Mr. Johnson is now the Head of Investigations at byline.com and bylineinvestigates.com. Mr Evans has written for Byline Investigations
By Graham Johnson
Editor, Byline Investigates
THREE high-powered ex-Mirror executives have been named as alleged phone hacking masterminds in court.
Former Sunday Mirror Editor Tina Weaver and ex-People Editor James Scott – both protégés of ex-Daily Mirror Editor Piers Morgan – are alleged to have conspired using many different methods to intercept voicemails.
However, their long-serving deputy Nick Buckley was named more times than all three of the top bosses put together, in a skeleton argument written by the claimants’ barrister David Sherborne.
Additionally, Mr. Buckley was named in a similar court hearing last month, for being at ‘centre of unlawful activities’ when he was Head of News at The Sunday Mirror newspaper.
Weaver and Morgan have previously denied any participation in or knowledge of phone hacking at the papers they edited.
Scott and Buckley have not made any public statement, and are assumed to have not admitted voicemail interception.
The Mirror Group argue that legal methods were used to stand-up a sample of 20 articles that are alleged, in the latest wave of hacking claims, to have been unlawfully obtained.
Mr. Buckley featured prominently in the High Court hearing last Wednesday and Thursday, because a copy of his PalmPilot electronic contacts’ book had been found by the police on the hard drive of his work computer.
The device has been provided to the Claimants’ legal team, for them to deploy in court cases as evidence of unlawful information-gathering.
The Claimants argue that Mr. Buckley used the device as a phone-hacking database, and point to the findings of Mr. Justice Mann in the Gulati case.
The High Court judge accepted the evidence of whistle-blower Dan Evans as true, and that was that Ms. Weaver had instructed him to hack phones on the Sunday Mirror, and Buckley had shown him how.
Mr. Evans also testified that he stored mobile phone numbers on his own PalmPilot, that he would synchronise with his work computer.
Many of the celebrities whose numbers were in Evans’ PalmPilot have sued Mirror Group, with the newspaper company admitting liability on the basis of the electronic entries.
The Claimants say that the same conclusions can be drawn from having a celebrity’s mobile number on Mr. Buckley’s PalmPilot.
But lawyers for the Mirror argue that using data from the PalmPilot – from which they complain only ‘small extracts’ are relied upon – is ‘unfair.’
In addition , counsel for the Mirror, claim that the deployment of Mr. Buckley’s contacts’ book risks disclosing legitimate journalistic material.
Mr. Buckley is accused of a wide-range of activity which enabled alleged phone hacking, including allegations of:
• Buying and destroying unregistered pay-as-you-go ‘burner’ phones used for intercepting voicemails.
• Destroying print-outs of hacked voicemail transcripts to avoid leaving an evidential trail.
• Habitually ordering unlawful private investigator and ‘blagger’ inquiries to obtain or stand-up stories.
• Teaching reporter Dan Evans to hack phones.
• Helping to build-up a ‘hacking’ database, containing of hundreds of phone numbers
• Maintaining his own PalmPilot at The Sunday Mirror and The People for similar purposes.
Black Mirror: Once the biggest selling, most powerful paper in Britain is now at the centre of criminal allegations, along with its sister papers.
Mr. Buckley, Ms. Weaver and Mr. Scott were not in court and have never been called as defence witnesses by their former employers.
It is not known whether they have offered to give evidence defending themselves.
At the hearing, Mirror Group Newspapers argued that some of the claimants, or their lawyers, had not done enough ‘due diligence’ when researching articles, which they say are hacked.
The Mirror lawyers stated that many articles, which celebrities have claimed to have been unlawfully obtained, were in fact derived from legitimate sources, such as the Claimant themselves or their agents, such as press interviews and statements made in the public-domain.
Alternatively, the Mirror’s case is that the stories had been lifted’ or paraphrased (without attribution) from a previously published story in rival newspapers, or facts that had been disclosed in court reports, articles in local papers and news agency copy.
Richard Spearman QC, counsel for the Mirror Group, said that the material offered by the claimants to back-up hacking allegations, in twenty sample articles chosen by the Mirror Group, was ‘late’ and of ‘little or no relevance.’
Mr. Spearman argued that witness statements from former Sunday Mirror reporters-turned whistleblowers Graham Johnson and Dan Evans talked only in ‘general terms’ and they ‘speculate about articles… with which they had no involvement.’
More follows in the next instalment of Byline Investigates Court Report.