A former journalist at the Sunday Mirror who was investigating a soap star’s alleged relationship with a gangland boss, has pleaded guilty to phone hacking.
Graham Johnson, who worked for Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) for eight years and was eventually promoted to investigations editor at the Sunday tabloid, is the second – and most senior – journalist at MGN to admit he engaged in illegal voicemail interception.
Dan Evans, another former Sunday Mirror journalist, who later worked at Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World under Andy Coulson, was earlier this year given a 10-month suspended sentenced after he admitted accessing over 1,000 voicemail messages when he worked at both titles. Evans admitted that phone hacking became a “standard journalistic tool” at the Sunday Mirror, and that he had been given tutorials on how to hack.
Lawyers representing MGN in on-going civil actions have said they will not be challenging Evans’ account.
Westminster Magistrates Court was told yesterday that Johnson had been “shown by a senior person in a supervisory capacity how to access voicemails” and that he was not aware that when he engaged in hacks over seven days in 2001 that his actions were illegal. The court heard that between 10 and 13 messages a day had been listened to by Johnson. The hacking was part of a Mirror investigation of a TV soap star thought to be involved in a relationship with a gangster.
In March last year, following the arrests of a number of MGN journalists, including former editors and senior news executives, Johnson contacted police and confessed to a “short and intense” period of hacking.
Hacking trial: The verdicts in full
Hacking trial: The verdicts in full
1/7 Rebekah Brooks
The former News of the World editor and News International chief executive has been cleared of conspiracy to hack phones; misconduct in public office for allegedly signing off payments to a Sun journalist's 'number one military contact' between 2004 and 2012; conspiracy to pervert the course of justice after seven boxes were allegedly removed from the NI archive just days before 2011 arrests
2/7 Andy Coulson
Former News of the World editor and Downing Street spin doctor guilty of conspiracy to hack phones from 2000 to 2006. The jury failed to reach a majority verdict on charges of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office by allegedly paying police officers for two royal directories. He could face a retrial.
3/7 Stuart Kuttner
Retired managing editor cleared of involvement in phone-hacking conspiracy spanning six years
4/7 Cheryl Carter
Brooks' former personal assistant, cleared of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by removing seven boxes from the News International company archive just days before she was arrested in 2011
5/7 Charlie Brooks
Racehorse trainer and Rebekah Brooks' husband, cleared of perverting the course of justice around the time of police searches in July 2011
6/7 Mark Hanna
Former News International director of security, cleared of perverting the course of justice
7/7 Clive Goodman
The former News of the World royal editor, could face a retrial after the jury failed to reach a verdict on charges of committing misconduct in public office for allegedly paying police officers for two royal directories
District judge Quentin Purdy, praised Johnson, 46, for coming forward and admitting the offence. He said “Great credit comes your way for pleading guilty today and even more so for literally turning yourself in… and throwing yourself at the mercy of the court.”
Johnson’s lawyer, Avtar Bhatoa, said his client believed [at the time] he was involved in a legitimate gangland investigation but had “discontinued the hacking because he did not feel it was right”.
The judge – who said the district court did not have sufficient powers to deal with the case, leaving Johnson to be sentenced at the Old Bailey later this month – described hacking as “ a grave intrusion into other people’s lives”.
Johnson worked at the NOTW before joining the Sunday Mirror. He has written eight non-fiction books and two novels. He made no comment to the court.
Last week at the Royal Courts of Justice, counsel for the Metropolitan Police said up to nine former Mirror Group journalists could face “imminent” charges over phone hacking.
During a hearing of the civil actions brought against MGN, Jonathan Dixie said four files now in the hands of Operation Golding, the specialist Met unit investigating hacking at MGN, contained evidence that had changed the assessment on whether criminal proceedings would be brought against individuals who have previously been arrested in connection with phone hacking.
Although counsel for the publishers said they would be appealing Mr Justice Mann’s ruling, no appeal was lodged. The files were handed over four days ago. A civil trial is scheduled for February 2015.