Wallis Attacks "Politically-Driven Campaign Against Press"
Wednesday 1 July, 2015
By Martin Hickman
One of the biggest figures in British tabloid newspaper journalism was today acquitted of taking part in the phone hacking conspiracy at the News of the World.
Neil "Wolfman" Wallis, deputy editor of the News of the World, had been accused of plotting to hack mobile phone messages at the Sunday tabloid between 2003 and 2006.
A jury at London's Central Criminal Court returned the "Not Guilty" verdict at 12.20pm after deliberating for four days.
Outside court, Mr Wallis made a statement attacking what he said was "a vicious politically-driven campaign" against the press.
"Four years. Fours years after I was arrested, I finally walk out of here a free man. It's cost me and my family most of our life savings," he said.
"It's ruined my life, all because of a vicious politically-driven campaign against the press launched by Keir Starmer and Alison Levitt [the former Director of Public Prosecutions and his legal adviser].
"This is the culmination of a political drive by the police and the CPS. It's a disgrace."
HUNDREDS OF VOICEMAILS HACKED
Mr Wallis had been charged with taking part in the paper's hacking conspiracy from his first day at Rupert Murdoch's paper on 29 January 2003 to the day after counter-terrorism smashed its phone hacking ring on 8 August 2006.
The trial heard how the News of the World had hacked hundreds of voicemails to land scoops about Princes William and Harry, Home Secretary David Blunkett and the England football manager Sven Goran Eriksson.
Other targets were Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, actors Sienna Miller and Daniel Craig, and the boxer Amir Khan.
The Crown claimed it was "inconceivable" Mr Wallis had not known about the hacking, when the plotters included editor Andy Coulson, news editor Ian Edmondson and features editor Jules Stenson.
A former features writer, Dan Evans, even testified that he played a hacked phone message to the deputy editor in the News of the World's newsroom.
However Mr Wallis said that Evans – who had cut a deal with prosecutors to give evidence – was a former heavy drug user, a phone hacker and a liar.
He that executives would not have told him about hacking because he had a reputation for journalism ethics and strongly supported the Press Complaints Commission.
He added that he would have thought the paper had obtained stories about hacking victims legally through kiss and tell buy-ups, reporters' contacts, paparazzi agencies and other means.
COURTROOM THANKS TO JURY
The seven men and five women of the jury spent 14 hours discussing the case, having retired to consider their verdict on Thursday afternoon.
When they filed back into Court 6 at 12.18pm, the clerk read out the charge that Mr Wallis had conspired to intercept communications contrary to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.
Asked whether they had found decided upon a verdict, the foreman replied "Yes" and, asked whether it was guilty or not guilty, the foreman replied clearly: "Not Guilty."
From behind the locked glass-walled dock, Mr Wallis, sounding on the verge of tears, said to the jury: "Thank you".
He was let out of the dock by the security officer and walked outside the court to chat to his solicitor and his barrister Neil Saunders.
WALLIS'S CREDIBILITY ON THE LINE
During the case, Mr Wallis's integrity was centre-stage. The 64-year-old told the court how he had worked his way up newspapers, from cub reporter on the Worksop Guardian to editor of the Sunday People in 1998, via the Northern Echo, Manchester Evening News, Daily Star, and Sun.
After Coulson's resignation from the paper in 2007 following the jailing of its royal editor Clive Goodman, Mr Wallis became executive executive. He left the News of the World in 2009 to go into public relations.
Between October 2009 and 2010, he was paid £24,000 for advising the Metropolitan Police on PR
When the phone hacking scandal erupted back into life in July 2011, it was Metropolitan Police officers who arrested him.
After bailing him for 19 months, the CPS told Mr Wallis on 22 February 2013 that no further action would be taken against him.
Following the deal with Dan Evans to testify in return for a lower sentence, however, Mr Wallis was questioned again. Having made "no comment" at his three previous police interviews, on 15 October 2013 Mr Wallis gave a prepared statement in which he said he was being persecuted.
He complained: "It can be no coincidence that this new threat to me follows on from my extremely high profile campaign in the national and international media spotlighting the injustices and intimidation of journalists by the police, their use of endless bail and the police's role in the ongoing campaign to shackle the British press."
QUESTION OF CHARACTER
Mr Wallis, a well-known Fleet Street character, was charged in 2014 and went on trial at the beginning of June 2015.
During his cross-examination by the Crown's lawyer, Julian Christopher QC, Mr Wallis did not waver from his insistence that he had known nothing about hacking.
Jurors were told by Judge John Saunders that they would have to decide whether Evans – or Mr Wallis – was telling the truth.
Mr Wallis's character witnesses included John Stevens, former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.
Lord Stevens, who commanded London's police force between 2000 and 2005, told the court in a written statement: "I trusted Mr Wallis and would not have allowed our professional relationship to develop if I suspected him of involvement in law-breaking of any kind."
The Conservative politician David Mellor said that although he had been the victim of "reprehensible" tabloid antics, Mr Wallis had seemed to him "a pillar of common-sense and decency."
In his statement after his acquittal, Mr Wallis said: "I've been virtually unable to work for four years... It's taken my health, my family's health and all because of a campaign against journalists."
Martin Hickman's reporting of the trial at Byline.com has been funded by members of the public.
Copyright: Martin Hickman Twitter: @Martin_hickman