A News of the World journalist allegedly hacked into the phone messages of actress Sienna Miller's former stepmother shortly before the paper's editor told MPs that "rigorous new safeguards" had been introduced to stamp out the practice, the High Court heard yesterday.
In a series of new revelations, Kelly Hoppen, 51, an interior designer whose clients include the Beckhams, has accused Dan Evans, a feature writer for the tabloid, of attempting to access her voicemail messages in June 2009 using a mobile phone issued to him by Rupert Murdoch's News International.
The alleged 2009 hacking took place a month before a number of senior News International executives, including the NOTW's current editor Colin Myler, appeared before the House of Commons Media Select Committee to insist that hacking had only happened in 2005 and 2006, and that no other member of the paper's staff was involved.
Ms Hoppen's claims are strongly denied by Mr Evans and the NOTW, who say the journalist had no reason to telephone the designer and that the calls may have been the result of "pocket dialling" – meaning that her number could have been called accidentally while being carried in a bag or clothing. The newspaper has countered claims that Mr Evans – suspended since last April – entered a PIN code for Ms Hoppen's voicemail by saying it might have been the result of the "sticky keys" on his handset.
The designer's accusations are problematic for News International because it hinders the company's attempts to limit the phone hacking scandal to events five years ago, when private detective Glenn Mulcaire and the NOTW's then-royal editor Clive Goodman were jailed for illegally accessing the voicemails of aides to Princes William and Harry.
In a separate development, it emerged that Ms Hoppen was told by Scotland Yard last week that her name does appear on documents seized from Mr Mulcaire's home, despite officers twice previously denying that this was the case.
David Sherborne, for Ms Hoppen, told a pre-trial hearing seeking disclosure of information from both the Metropolitan Police and the NOTW, that two calls to her phone on 22 June 2009 – lasting five seconds and between 15 and 25 seconds – had been traced to a withheld number on Mr Evans's work mobile. The court heard that the second call resulted in an automated text message being sent to the designer warning her that an unsuccessful attempt had been made to access her voicemails.
Mr Sherborne said: "This evidence constitutes an enormous and important problem for the defendant. The reason for that is simple. It drives a coach and horses through the claim that has been persistently made by News International that the criminal activities of Mr Mulcaire and Mr Goodman were purely historic – the isolated actions of one rogue journalist and his private investigator associate."
The lawyer said it was noteworthy that the allegations against Mr Evans coincided with evidence given by News International executives to the select committee. At that hearing, Mr Myler said he had written to all staff members warning them that failure to comply with the law was likely to result in dismissal.
Ms Hoppen, whose previous partners have included the England footballer Sol Campbell and hairdresser Nicky Clarke, has long been the subject of press interest in her love life.
Michael Silverleaf QC, for Mr Evans and the NOTW, said the phone hacking claims on behalf of Ms Hoppen were "speculative" and not backed by any evidence. A search of Mr Evans' computers at home and work had revealed nothing to show he had been interested in writing about her at the time of the calls. Mr Silverleaf said: "Dan Evans says he was not doing anything in relation to the claimant in June 2009 and had no reason to call her phone and, as far as he is aware, didn't do so."