When it comes to righteous protestation of innocence, one name stands out from the hacking trials, and that is former Screws man Neil Wallis, who favours the nickname of “Wolfman”, but was more usually referred to by his unfortunate colleagues as “The Rasping F***wit”. He was charged; he was found Not Guilty. He has, as a result, made a name for himself telling how unfair it all was.
Wallis’ defence was not dissimilar to that deployed by the twinkle-toed yet domestically combative Rebekah Brooks: he didn’t know it was happening, despite several people at the Screws indulging in the practice on an industrial scale. His trial boiled down to whether he was to be believed, or his accuser, Dan Evans, who had previously admitted his part in this particular “Dark Art”. The jury believed Wallis.
However, and here we encounter a significantly sized however, that jury could only consider the evidence that was put before them, and here followers of these trials may have recalled the Not Guilty verdict on Ms Brooks was followed by another trial where the evidence presented painted her in a rather different - and far less favourable - light. But the evidence ponied up in the second trial was not available to the first.
That may have simply been down to the limited resources available to the prosecution side, as against the largesse deployed by the Murdoch empire in defending Ms Brooks. But with the conclusion of the deliberations which culminated in former Screws editor Colin Myler, and Murdoch legal eagle Tom Crone, being found in contempt of Parliament, more of that evidence has come to light. And some of it concerns Wallis.
Myler’s Witness Statement
Let us first consider the Witness Statement made by Myler and dated 21st December 2011. He tells “I recall a meeting I had with Neville THURLBECK, the Chief Reporter of the News of the World … together with Tom CRONE, the newspaper’s legal manager … in or around July 2009 … I recall that the meeting took place on a Saturday”.
There was more: “Mr THURLBECK told Mr CRONE and me that some years previously he had hacked into David BLUNKETT’s voicemail messages. This had taken place when Mr BLUNKETT was the Home Secretary and allegations were published by the Newspaper about his personal life … Stories concerning Mr BLUNKETT were published in 2004, and ultimately he resigned his position as Home Secretary”.
[This was the Kimberly Quinn affair]
And then the part which Neil Wallis may find challenging: “Mr THURLBECK added that some time following the hacking of Mr BLUNKETT’s phone, he had attended a meeting with Andy COULSON … Neil WALLIS … and Mr [Stuart] KUTTNER. Mr THURLBECK maintained that at that meeting he had told those persons that he had hacked Mr BLUNKETT’s phone. He said that those present at the meeting told him to destroy his phone and computer, and that he should work from home”.
Following that discussion, Myler describes two actions he took. “Following the meeting with Mr THURLBECK, because of the importance of what had been said, I went back to my office and asked the Deputy Editor, Jane JOHNSON, to take a note in which I recorded what I had been told”. That note is included in the bundle of evidence.
He also recalls “I arranged a meeting with Mrs BROOKS on the next day Mrs BROOKS, Mr CRONE and I were in the office, which I believe was the following Tuesday … We met in a room on the Executive Floor. I recounted the comments made by Mr THURLBECK. She appeared shocked and agitated about what I was telling her. I believe she said this is ‘one question too many, six months too late’ and ‘I will not let this company go into meltdown’”. We will return to Ms Brooks’ contribution in a later post.
Jane Johnson’s Note
Ms Johnson’s handwritten note is timed and dated 1611 hours on the 11th July 2009. This date is highly significant. Not only does it tie in with Myler’s recollection more than two years later that the meeting with Thurlbeck and Crone took place on a Saturday, it also goes a long way to explaining why Hacking was being discussed.
That is because the Guardian’s first major article on phone hacking had been published just two days previously - on Thursday 9th July 2009. Thurlbeck made his confession to Myler and Crone, and implicated not only Coulson, but also Wallis and Kuttner, in the aftermath of Nick Davies’ article that, we now know, had begun the process of prising the lid off a very nasty can of worms.
This is some of what Myler recalled, and Ms Johnson noted down.
“Neville said on this occasion he hadn’t worked with [Glenn] Mulcaire … He said he had accessed [voicemails] himself … Neville said he played the tapes in Andy’s office with Andy Coulson, Neil Wallis and Stuart [Kuttner] present … He was told to work from home, make no more tapes of tapes, for it all to be kept on transcript … He was told to destroy his computer and laptop … So he destroyed his home computer and his laptop”.
There was more: “Asked what happened to the tapes he thought he’d given them to Tom … Tom said I didn’t get them, but they might have been sealed up and put in the legal safe”. There then followed some detail on the Gordon Taylor story.
At the 2014 Hacking Trial, Coulson got guilty and Kuttner got off.
The Heather Mills Voicemail
For Neil Wallis, there is another item of evidence that suggests he may not have been quite as innocent of the Dark Arts as his being found Not Guilty suggests, and that was the voicemail left on Heather Mills’ phone by her then partner Paul McCartney.
Here I submit a Twitter exchange from August 2012 between myself and Wallis. My comment was “if I weren’t a career cynic I’d think you never played [Piers Morgan] any voicemails (allegedly)”, to which Wallis replied simply “Harsh!”
Neil Wallis could have claimed no knowledge of what I was talking about. He did not. A little background is in order here.
Morgan’s book The Insider describes an incident when he was played the Mills/McCartney voicemail, in which McCartney can be heard singing the words of “We Can Work It Out”. It was alleged by Private Eye magazine that the person who played Morgan the voicemail was none other than Neil Wallis.
During his appearance before the Leveson Inquiry, Piers Morgan was questioned on the incident, but declined to name the individual who had played him the voicemail.
Readers will be able to form their own conclusions from the Eye allegation and Wallis’ response to my prompting.
Neil Wallis has made a nice little earner from his victim status. This week’s release of evidence suggests his claim of innocence may not be wholly accurate.