Phone hacking was so widespread at the News of the World that it is “inconceivable” the Sunday tabloid’s former deputy editor did not know of the practice, a court has heard.
The claim was made against Neil Wallis, who was right-hand man between 2003 and 2007 to former editor and Downing Street communications chief Andy Coulson, as he went on trial accused of plotting to eavesdrop on the voicemails of celebrities and public figures.
A number of senior staff at the now-defunct NOTW have admitted involvement in large-scale phone hacking during the early part of the last decade. Mr Coulson, who edited the famously salacious title between 2003 and 2007, was convicted last year of conspiring to intercept voicemails at the high-profile trial which saw his predecessor, Rebekah Brooks, cleared of all charges.
On the opening day of Mr Wallis’s trial, a jury at the Old Bailey heard that the journalist, who went by the newsroom nickname “Wolfman”, had been surrounded by people above and below him on the Sunday title who knew of or were involved in hacking.
Julian Christopher QC, for the prosecution, said the 64-year-old was not accused of intercepting voicemails himself but alleged he had known of the practice and agreed to it, including an incident when it was used to uncover an affair between David Blunkett, while he was Home Secretary, and a married woman.
Opening his case, Mr Christopher told the court: “The practice was so widespread at the NOTW that it is inconceivable that the editor above him should have been involved, and those below him should have been involved, without him also knowing about it and being involved.”
The jurors were told that alongside this assertion, other evidence pointed to Mr Wallis’s knowledge of hacking, including emails to him which referred “obliquely” to the practice and the testimony of a former reporter, Dan Evans, who had specialised in voicemail interception and claims he played recordings of eavesdropped messages to the former deputy editor.
Mr Christopher added that there was “no dispute that hacking was going on, and going on on a large scale” at the paper.
Mr Wallis, of Chiswick, west London, denies conspiracy to illegally access voicemails.
Evans, who has previously pleaded guilty to extensive hacking while working at the NOTW, was courted by the paper when he was employed by the Sunday Mirror and eventually joined Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid in 2005.
The court heard that on his first day he was sent a list of 700 names and mobile numbers and tasked with phone hacking.
The court was told the case against the former deputy editor will also include phone records which appear to show that he was involved when the NOTW was preparing to reveal Mr Blunkett’s affair. Mr Christopher said there had been a series of phone calls between Coulson and his deputy around the time when the editor personally confronted the politician about the story.
The trial, which is expected to last up to six weeks, continues.