The hacking of schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone was the last straw that broke the camel’s back as the phone hacking scandal unfolded. It was that one revelation that brought such condemnation upon the Murdoch press that it precipitated the already-planned closure of the Screws, a paper that had been run for some years as a borderline criminal enterprise. It now seems that the Screws may not have hacked alone.
As Byline Investigates has now revealed, “Executives at the [Sunday People] allegedly paid Private Investigator firm Starbase - which has been connected extensively to cases of phone hacking - as police searched for the missing 13-year-old in March 2002. The allegations were made in a legal document, known as a skeleton argument, filed for and deployed at a High Court hearing in November last year. The evidence has emerged just as Prince Harry joined the same Group Action”. There was more.
Those documents “allege The Sunday People also put the Dowlers under ‘unlawful’ surveillance before publishing a major story 10 days after the schoolgirl disappeared … In them, counsel for 71 claimants currently suing Reach PLC’s publisher subsidiary Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), David Sherborne, said: ‘The invoices referred to… demonstrate Unlawful Information Gathering (UIG) in relation to the Milly Dowler story.’”
And there is one added bonus here: Byline Investigates has shared its findings with the BBC, thereby bringing the revelation to a much wider audience. So let me add a little to the discussion, especially regarding the editor of the Sunday People at the time, one Neil Wallis. Wallis likes to be known as “The Wolfman”, but was known by hacks as “The rasping fuckwit” and “Mr Can We Say” (after his creative interpretation of facts).
Neil Wallis, former Sunday People editor
The Beeb is careful to point out “Neil Wallis was the editor of the People in 2002. There is no suggestion he commissioned the work allegedly carried out by Starbase”, and that he “was tried at the Old Bailey and acquitted in 2015 of conspiracy to hack voicemails during his time as deputy editor of the [Screws]”. But not everyone agrees he didn’t know.
Former Screws editor Colin Myler placed Wallis in the room when Neville Thurlbeck confessed to personally hacking David Blunkett’s phone (the confession was made two days after Nick Davies’ Guardian article that began the process of exposing the true scale of phone hacking). The note in which Myler recalls the event was submitted as part of a bundle of evidence disclosed by the Crown Prosecution Service.
Piers Morgan - will, inevitably, face questions
Moreover, Piers Morgan’s book The Insider describes an incident when he was played the Heather Mills/Paul 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.
Morgan has previously emphatically denied being editor-in-chief of the Mirror titles, a claim also made by Private Eye. He may find himself quizzed about any oversight role he may or may not have had with the Sunday People as the fallout from this revelation intensifies.
Especially as it involves the one issue that broke the Screws. More on this later.
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