Byline Investigates: the Sun and the Mail
An example of our work so far
Part 3: Second Sun Editor Named Over Phone Hacking - High Court Email Evidence
PHONE hacking may still have been happening at Rupert Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers two years after the company insists the illegal practice ended, according to new claims heard in the High Court.
An email sent in 2011 by The Sun’s Political Editor Tom Newton Dunn to its then Editor Dominic Mohan reveals that a senior politician called in police over the alleged hack, which it is suggested took place in February 2011.
"...his phone answerphone was hacked three weeks ago and he has called in the police. Being a decent bloke who likes us he is not planning on telling anyone or making a big deal.” ~ Tom Newton Dunn, March 2011
Mr Newton Dunn, 43, does not make clear which - if either - of NGN’s titles, The Sun or the News of the World, was involved, but the email raises new questions about the company’s claim that hacking ended in June 2009.
David Sherborne, representing alleged victims of hacking by The Sun, read out the email in a hearing on March 9 at the High Court’s Rolls Building before Mr Justice Mann.
It said: "For your information Dom, just so you're aware, I had dinner with (senior politician) last night who revealed very discreetly to us that his phone answerphone was hacked three weeks ago and he has called in the police. Being a decent bloke who likes us he is not planning on telling anyone or making a big deal.”
Mr Sherborne added: “Your Lordship will note the date of this email. ‘Hacking three weeks ago’, and the date of the email is, 16 March 2011.”
The email is seen to be significant because until now NGN, which publishes The Sun, has claimed phone hacking ended almost entirely in August 2006, with the exception of an isolated 2009 incident, and was entirely limited to its sister paper the News of the World (NotW).
In court, NGN’s lawyers - who deny hacking took place at The Sun - did not suggest any possible alternative meanings for Mr Newton Dunn’s email which also, for the second time, names an Editor of The Sun as being aware of phone hacking while in charge at the paper.
The first was Rebekah Brooks, who was acquitted of conspiring to commit the offence and other crimes at the Old Bailey in 2014 - and is now Chief Executive of News UK (formerly News International, controlled by Rupert Murdoch), which owns NGN.
Eleven months after Mr Newton Dunn’s email, 47-year-old Mr Mohan was questioned under oath about his knowledge of phone hacking.
He was quizzed at the Leveson Inquiry, in February 2012, about his comments at an awards ceremony in 2002, in which he thanked "Vodafone's lack of security" for showbusiness exclusives in rival paper the Daily Mirror.
The inquiry heard this was a reference to the fact that it was easy to hack into mobile phones on the Vodafone network.
Pressed on whether he was trying to distance himself from the remark, Mr Mohan stumbled over his words. He said: “I think I’ve been f-frank in my explanation. It was said in joke to undermine the Mirror’s journalism.”
Mr Mohan told Robert Jay QC he was aware of the practice of hacking in 1998 after reading newspaper articles in the Irish Daily Mirror and The Independent about holes in mobile phone security.
He admitted he had heard “rumours” that the Mirror used hacking to source stories, to which Mr Jay asked: “Did those rumours encompass The Sun for whom you were working in 2002?”
Mr Mohan replied: “I can’t remember. It was a very long time ago clearly. I can’t remember the specifics of the rumours.”
Mr Jay then referred to a series of stories Mr Mohan oversaw as editor of The Sun’s Bizarre showbusiness column being seemingly based “in and around phone calls”, and asked whether they were obtained via phone hacking.
Mr Mohan replied: “I can't say 100%… but what I would say is that you have picked a small number of stories from a period of over three years.”
Asked again whether the stories might have been obtained by phone hacking, Mr Mohan went on: “I'm not aware that illegal accessing of voicemail was the source of any of these stories.”
Mr Mohan may now be required to enter the witness box again – this time at a civil trial, scheduled for October this year, for alleged victims of phone hacking by The Sun.
NGN is facing at least 91 claims of phone hacking, including from singer Sir Elton John, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, actor David Tennant, and singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor.
Mr Mohan, was made Editor of the Sun when Rebekah Brooks became Chief Executive of News International in the summer of 2009.
He left the editorship in June 2013 to work as a consultant to Robert Thomson, CEO of NewsCorp (another Murdoch company), leaving in 2015 to become CEO of London-based public relations company the Outside Organisation, whose broad base of clients include David Beckham, Jamie Oliver, Barclaycard, and the Ministry of Defence.
Byline asked Mr Mohan a series of questions relating to this article.
We also asked Mr Newton Dunn and NGN separately for comment, allowing a day for their responses.
NGN has said in court that it denies phone hacking occurred at The Sun. Its solicitors, Clifford Chance, said in a statement: “NGN intends robustly to defend, in particular, allegations made in respect of The Sun.”