A former tabloid reporter was recruited to the News of the World from its chief rival on the basis of his skills as a phone hacker and told the paper’s then editor Andy Coulson about the practice during his interview, the Old Bailey heard on Monday.
Dan Evans, who has pleaded guilty to illegally intercepting voicemails while working at both the News of the World and the Sunday Mirror, said the “dark art” of phone hacking inside Britain’s leading Sunday tabloids was carried out on “a fairly grand scale”.
The former Mirror Group staff journalist, who was poached by News International in 2005, said he learned the “secret” techniques involved in hacking at the Sunday Mirror. Evans said hacking had been going on at the paper for “a long time” before he joined its staff in 2003.
After Evans developed a reputation for hacking, a senior journalist at News International told him during an informal discussion over a potential move to the Wapping headquarters of Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper group: “I know you can screw phones, but what else can you do?”
In a day of testimony at the hacking trial, Evans described the “kerching moment” during a meeting with Mr Coulson at a hotel to discuss a job at the NOTW. He said: “I told him about my background, the sort of stories I had been doing. Almost the sort of stuff I had been through before.”
Following prompting by the other NOTW journalist he had dealt with before, he said: “I got onto voicemails and interception and I told him I had a lot of commercially sensitive data in my head and how things worked at the Sunday Mirror and I could bring him big exclusive stories cheaply which was the kerching moment. Bring exclusive stories cheaply equals job.”
The court learned that last year Evans pleaded guilty to hacking charges that covered periods when he worked at the Mirror and Rupert Murdoch-owned titles.
In a statement, Trinity Mirror said it took any allegations of wrongdoing seriously, but that it was “too soon to know how this matter will progress”. The company’s shares closed down 3.68 per cent. The jury also learned that Evans has entered into an agreement with the Crown Prosecution Service, delivering two detailed statements which had resulted in him appearing on Monday as a prosecution witness.
Evans told the court he had developed a “niche” role at the Sunday Mirror, and had collated a voicemail interception target list of celebrities, their agents and others around them. He described phone hacking as “hardly rocket science” and said he knew the access process of every major phone company. He described using “burner” pay-as-you-go phones, that were destroyed after a few months to ensure their use could not be traced.
When Evans was initially offered a move to the NOTW by James Weatherup, a former Mirror colleague who had moved to Wapping and has since pleaded guilty to hacking charges, he refused. He told the court: “I didn’t want to be there as his [Weatherup’s] pet phone hacker.” Although the News International offer was rejected, Evans described his reporting role at the Mirror title as “sliding into phone hacking a bit too far.”
He said he had initially been handed a lengthy list of phone numbers belonging to famous individuals and told “You have to hack and crack the pin numbers of these people.”
Evans then described a subsequent attempt by the NOTW to recruit him. The news department inside the now-shuttered tabloid title, he told the court, had been using hacking to obtain stories.
The journalist who tried to snatch him from the Sunday Mirror is alleged to have said: “If you can’t beat them, join them.” He said he was told: “I want you to do some of that voicemail interception.”
The jury was told that the meeting, in late 2004, was before “phone hacking” became the standard short-hand for the illegal practice. He said discussions usually mentioned “the stuff with the phones”.
Evans described to the court how during a leaving do for a journalist at News International, another journalist had shouted out to the room: “I don’t understand why people don’t just change their fucking voicemail numbers.”
Evans, 38, worked at the NOTW under Mr Coulson’s editorship. He told the court of a breakfast meeting with him at a hotel near Covent Garden and Evans said the NOTW journalist who had set up the meeting called him “within 10 minutes” to say he would be offered a job as an investigative reporter.
Mr Coulson, along with News International’s former chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, have pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to hack phones.
Evans said that when he initially arrived at the NOTW he was presented with a contacts list and was told to “get cracking”. He said this meant he was expected to “hack the interesting names on the list”.
The list, shown to the court, included Michael Jackson, Elle Macpherson, Nicole Kidman, athlete Dwain Chambers and footballer John Terry.
Asked by the lead prosecution counsel, Andrew Edis QC, how many people he had hacked for the NOTW, Evans said “couple of hundred, maybe accessed a thousand or more voicemails – not as many as I did at the Sunday Mirror – but a lot.”
The court heard that in addition to hacking at the NOTW, the paper had a budget with specialist tracing firms who could obtain phone numbers, credit card bills, tax, medical records and other private data. Evans said such details could be obtained “within three hours” of a request being made.
Evans said that after laying off hacking from 2006 when Glenn Mulcaire was jailed, he had “made a fairly fundamental blunder” in 2009 when he tried to access the voicemails of the designer, Kelly Hoppen, using his company phone. Vodaphone disclosed his identity. “I was a moron” he told the court.
The trial continues.