Fleet Street's 'Wolfman': hardened hack with a hotline to the Met

Ian Burrell on the executive some say was too close to Scotland Yard
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The Independent Online

Neil Wallis is known as The Wolfman, not just because of his occasional penchant for facial hair and lupine looks, but also because, during his coverage of the Yorkshire Ripper murders, he came up with the theory that the killer attacked only on a full moon.

The nickname caught hold in the tabloid newspaper culture, in which Wallis marked himself out by attaching the title "World's Greatest Reporter" to his byline in the Daily Star.

A grammar school boy from Lincolnshire, he began his career on the Skegness Standard before quickly climbing the greasy pole of the red-top press. He made his name as a hard-bitten hack for The Sun, covering the north of England before rising to features editor and news editor.

In 1998, he switched newspaper stables to the Mirror Group to become deputy editor of the Sunday Mirror and then editor of The People, where he took a high-profile role in competing with the News of the World.

He networked – especially with senior police officers – and took a place on the Press Complaints Commission, the industry regulator. It is a testimony to Mr Wallis's tabloid reputation that News International called him back in 2004 to be a deputy for Andy Coulson, a novice editor at the NOTW. To staff, The Wolfman was a tough guy, who put them under intense pressure to find exclusives. He added to the macho culture by bringing in former colleagues from the Mirror Group, such as news editor Ian Edmondson and the tabloid veteran James Weatherup. Mr Wallis is remembered by ex-colleagues for attention to detail, a quick brain and vindictive nature.

To them, news he was hired as a consultant by the Metropolitan Police last year was less surprising – his high-level contacts with Scotland Yard were legendary. Mr Wallis ghost-wrote a column under the name of the former Yard commissioner John Stevens, headlined "The Chief", which was peppered with inside information and strategic insight. Mr Stevens and Mr Wallis were close, and the journalist was a key player in ensuring the NOTW was able to serialise the former-Met chief's autobiography. He was also friendly with John Yates, the senior Met officer who later investigated phone hacking at the NOTW.

Those police contacts came in handy when The Wolfman took his leave of newspapers in 2009 and set up a PR consultancy, Chamy Media, which promptly landed a contract with the Yard to provide "strategic communication advice and support".

He later took a role with the showbiz PR company Outside Organisation and worked for clients including Naomi Campbell and the media mogul Richard Desmond. Last week, when the offices of Mr Desmond's Northern & Shell were raided by police investigating former NOTW journalist Clive Goodman, who worked at the Daily Star Sunday after being jailed for phone hacking, it was Mr Wallis who handled the subsequent press inquiries.

The arrest of Wallis at 6am yesterday came as a shock to Outside's founder, Alan Edwards, who had sought reassurances from Mr Wallis that he had no involvement in hacking.

Network: The links between the key players

The career of Neil Wallis, the former journalist who was arrested yesterday, has overlapped with other key characters in the phone-hacking scandal.

Neil Wallis (arrested yesterday)

1986-1998 The Sun; features editor, news editor, reporter

1998-2003 The People; editor

2003-2009 News of the World; deputy editor, executive editor

Ian Edmondson (arrested in April)

2000-2005 The People, reporter

2005-2011 News of the World, reporter

James Weatherup (arrested in April)

1987-1999 News of the World; reporter, senior reporter, chief reporter

1999-2001 The People; deputy news editor, news editor

2001-2003 Sunday Mirror; executive writer

2004-2011 News of the World; news editor, assistant news editor

Andy Coulson (arrested last week)

1988-2000 The Sun; reporter, Bizarre editor

2000-2007 News of the World; deputy editor, editor