Phone-hacker witness says he was caught up in News International 'conspiracy'

Ex-newspaper editor's lawyer questions journalist about bid to secure immunity from prosecution in exchange for giving evidence

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 January, 2014, 1:13pm
UPDATED : Friday, 31 January, 2014, 11:22am

Former newspaper editor Andy Coulson’s lawyer confronted self-confessed phone-hacker witness Dan Evans at the Old Bailey in London on Wednesday, repeatedly questioning the reliability of his evidence that included allegations that the now-closed News of the World was involved in crime when Coulson was editing the Sunday tabloid.

Timothy Langdale QC challenged Evans at length over a false witness statement which he had made in a civil action and over the history of his attempts to secure immunity from prosecution in exchange for giving evidence.

The jury in the phone-hacking trial have been told that Evans has pleaded guilty to four offences, including perverting the course of justice by swearing a false statement in a civil action brought by the interior designer Kelly Hoppen, whose phone he hacked in June 2009.

Questioned by Langdale, Evans said: “I did lie. I was upholding a conspiracy … I’m saying there was an enormous conspiracy which I’ve been caught up in. I was toeing the party line, the company line.”

He said that in April 2010, when the News of the World’s managing editor first asked him about Hoppen’s complaint that her phone had been hacked, he claimed he was not able to remember the incident and had mentioned that, as a result of a spilled drink in a pub, his phone at the time had “sticky keys”.

“This phrase was seized on,” Evans said. “By the time it got to my first meeting with News International lawyers, it had already been drafted into the statement. There it stayed. I went with it because I was extremely frightened.”

Asked if he was blaming the lawyers, identified in the Old Bailey central criminal court as Farrer & Co, he said: “I bitterly regret that I didn’t take a braver course of action at the time.” He agreed that when he had been arrested and questioned by police in August 2011, he had given them a prepared statement which repeated the same line. “It was cobblers,” he told the court.

Langdale led Evans through the history of his negotiations with police, beginning in November 2011, when notes disclosed by Evans’s lawyers suggest that he first considered the possibility of helping the police and of seeking immunity from prosecution for himself. Pressed about his intentions at that time, he said: “I was a very frightened man – one person between the prime minister, between the tabloid world, between highly-paid lawyers. I didn’t know what to do.”

By February 2012, his lawyers were talking to police and recording Evans’ claim that “phone-hacking was discussed at daily editorial conferences” at the News of the World. Challenged as to how he could have known that, Evans said: “As far as I was concerned, it was so widely known at the paper and it had been covered up so extensively that there was a very widespread conspiracy within the organisation.”

On Monday and Tuesday, Evans had told the jury that Coulson, who was later employed as Prime Minister David Cameron's communications director, hired him as a reporter knowing that he had a history of hacking phones in his previous job at the Sunday Mirror and that Coulson personally listened to a voicemail he had intercepted from the phone of the actor Daniel Craig.

Langdale suggested that it was not true that Coulson had listened to the message from Craig’s phone. Evans replied: “I didn’t see you there at the time. It’s true.”

The jury heard that after lengthy negotiations between police and Evans’ lawyers, he had agreed to give three long interviews to detectives in August 2012. He had been hoping to be given a complete immunity but the detectives had opened the interviews by telling him: “We’re not offering you a contract … We definitely won’t be making any promises.”

With his lawyers pressing the police for a full immunity, Evans had given a fourth interview in September 2012, the court heard, only to see negotiations falter and then collapse. In January last year, the Crown Prosecution Service had formally rejected the idea, telling his lawyers that such an agreement would leave Evans “extremely vulnerable to the charge that he had made up all the evidence in order to exculpate himself and place the blame on others.”

Over the following months, the jury were told, the police re-arrested him and questioned him under caution. By April last year, he had hired a new lawyer, who reopened negotiations with police. In August last year, he said, the CPS had signed an agreement that his co-operation would result in a reduced sentence.

Coulson denies conspiring to intercept communications. Dan Evans has pleaded guilty to two counts of intercepting communications; conspiring to commit misconduct in public office; and perverting the course of justice.

The trial continues.