Mirror phone-hacking trial: How hacking became 'standard practice' on the showbiz desk

A 'sophisticated, industrialised methodology for gathering news stories by unlawful means' became a 'standard practice'

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The Independent Online

On the 22nd floor of One Canada Square in Canary Wharf two newspapers – the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror – shared the large open space. The People was nearby. There were a few glass-walled offices for the senior editors, but largely everyone was in view.

During the month-long civil trial it was never determined when exactly phone hacking started, only that after the practice took hold it quickly became “endemic” and was described as “rife” on the showbusiness desk of the Daily Mirror by mid-1999.

James Hipwell, a business journalist who wrote the paper’s “City Slickers” column and was later jailed over the share-tipping scandal, worked close to the showbiz desk. What he saw offered the court insight into the early years of hacking. Junior reporters were told, he claimed, “to trawl the usual suspects”. Trawling became so prevalent that the showbiz team would brag about their hacking successes.

One of the principal targets was Alan Yentob, the BBC executive who had access to those who produced many of the shows regarded as the life-blood of the tabloids. When a Yentob hack was in progress, Mr Hipwell claims the desk erupted into a version of an Spike Milligan Goons’ song. “The Ying-Tong Song” became the “Yentob Song”.

The Hipwell evidence covered the period 1998 till 2000. Another Mirror Group Newspaper (MGN) journalist took the story on towards 2006. Dan Evans was a “staffer” on the Sunday Mirror. He claimed senior editorial staff called him into their office and “inducted” him into the art of hacking. The “demonstration” involved hacking one regular victim – Mr Yentob. Evans was provided with two pay-as-you-go phones, replacing them every two months and throwing the old ones into the Thames. Evans hacked the targets on his “regular list” – a list he kept in his back pocket.

If a story was discovered from a hack, MGN senior editorial staff still wanted it “stood up”. But the starting point was still phone hacking. Call data from inside MGN was disclosed to the claimants showed that company landlines were also regularly used to dial numbers regarded as potential hacks. Evans was a specialist hacker, but there were others.

Private investigators helped obtain the key details that could fast-track hacking – which became a key weapon of MGN titles and their efforts to compete with other tabloid titles for the big exclusives.

The result? According to descriptions offer during the civil trial, a “sophisticated, industrialised methodology for gathering news stories by unlawful means” became a “standard practice” for some journalists within MGN.