LONDON (AP) — A former tabloid journalist told Britain's phone hacking trial on Monday that he intercepted voicemails with the knowledge of senior executives — not just at the now-defunct News of the World, whose employees are standing trial, but at the rival Sunday Mirror.
Dan Evans has pleaded guilty to phone hacking while working at both newspapers between 2003 and 2010, and is the first journalist to admit hacking for a paper not owned by News of the World proprietor Rupert Murdoch.
After striking a deal with prosecutors, he gave evidence at the trial of former News of the World editors Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson and five others. The defendants deny all the charges. Evans said that while working at the Sunday Mirror starting in 2003, he was given the phone numbers of celebrities and told to "crack" them.
"Principally I was tasked with covering news events, investigations, undercover work, latterly with hacking people's voicemail," Evans said. He said that in late 2004 later met then-editor Coulson about a job at the News of the World, and told Coulson he could do "stuff with phones" — though he did not use the word hacking.
"I got onto voicemails and interception and I told him I had a lot of commercially sensitive data in my head and how things worked at the Sunday Mirror and I could bring him big exclusive stories cheaply," Evans said.
Evans said he started work at the News of the World in 2005, and was given a list of dozens of names including model Elle Macpherson, former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell and king of pop Michael Jackson. He said he was told "to hack the interesting names on there."
He said he had accessed voicemails more than 1,000 times in all while at the newspaper. He was eventually caught after using his work phone, rather than a disposable pay-as-you-go cell phone, when he tried to listen to the voicemails of designer Kelly Hoppen. She was able to trace the call back to him.
Murdoch closed the News of the World in 2011 after details emerged of the scale of its snooping on celebrities, politicians and others in the public eye. The police investigation spawned by the revelations initially focused on Murdoch's papers, but has spread to take in other companies, including Trinity Mirror PLC, which owns the Sunday Mirror and the Daily Mirror.
In a statement, Trinity Mirror acknowledged Evans' guilty plea and said "it is too soon to know how this matter will progress." "We do not tolerate wrongdoing within our business and take any allegations seriously," it said.
The company's shares fell more than 3.5 percent to 1.83 pounds ($3.03) Monday afternoon on the London Stock Exchange. The Daily Mirror was edited between 1995 and 2004 by CNN interviewer Piers Morgan, who told a British inquiry into media ethics that he was not aware of any phone hacking while he was there. The head of the inquiry, judge Brian Leveson, called Morgan's claim "utterly unpersuasive."
The jury at London's Central Criminal Court also heard evidence Monday from phone-hacking victim Jude Law, who was told for the first time that a close family member allegedly sold stories about him to the tabloid press.
The "Sherlock Holmes" star was for years a favorite of Britain's tabloids, which reveled in details of his relationships with designer Sadie Frost and actress Sienna Miller. Law said that his media profile rose after he was nominated for an Academy Award in 2001 for "The Talented Mr. Ripley." From then on, he said, "there seemed to be an unhealthy amount of information" about him in the press, and he would often arrive at places with his children to find photographers already there.
Law, Frost and Miller are among scores of celebrities, politicians and others who have been paid compensation for phone hacking by Murdoch's News Corp. But a defense lawyer suggested Monday that some of the information in 2005 News of the World stories alleging an affair between Law's then-girlfriend Miller and actor Daniel Craig might have had another source — Law's associates.
"I didn't know anyone around me was talking to the newspapers," the 41-year-old actor said as he gave evidence for just over an hour. Coulson's lawyer, Timothy Langdale, asked Law if he knew that a member of his immediate family had been giving information to the News of the World in exchange for money.
"I was not aware of that," Law said. Asked when he first heard of the allegation, Law said: "Today." Law was shown the name of the family member on a piece of paper. It was not shown to the jury or journalists.