One of most prolific phone-hackers to work for Rupert Murdoch’s media empire has explained publicly for the first time exactly how he illegally accessed the phones of hundreds of politicians and celebrities before covering up his crimes and hiding the evidence.
Dan Evans, a tabloid reporter for more than a decade, told a court in London that he had been hired by the now-defunct News of the World precisely because of his skill at “hacking and cracking” cell phones. He said he was at the center of a company-wide conspiracy to break the law and then cover up the spying techniques to fool celebrities including Daniel Craig, who plays James Bond, into thinking their personal secrets had been leaked by close friends or aides.
Evans pleaded guilty to conspiracy to intercept communications and agreed to become a prosecution witness last year. At the trial of some of Murdoch’s most senior executives, including Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, he has exposed some of the industry’s darkest secrets for the first time.
According to his testimony, Evans was hired to join the News of the World after explaining to Coulson at a breakfast meeting that he would be able to secure explosive stories for the Sunday tabloid by using free, but illegal, methods to listen to the private messages of high-profile figures. “Which was kind of like the ‘kerching’ moment, really. Big exclusive stories cheaply equals job,” he said.
Evans said he had been taught how to hack phones while at the Sunday Mirror, the News of the World’s biggest rival. When he was poached by Murdoch’s biggest-selling newspaper he says he was given a list of targets that included Michael Jackson, Elle Macpherson, Nicole Kidman, David Beckham, Ozzy Osbourne and Simon Cowell.
He testified that he immediately got to work with a set of “burner” phones bought on company expenses. He would call the target’s cell with one of the phones, count to three, and then re-dial the number with a second phone, which would usually put him through to the celebrity’s voicemail without registering on the target’s handset.
Once into the voicemail system Evans would enter the phone company’s standard code, which would allow him to listen to any of the recorded messages. At the Sunday Mirror, he said, he had been taught to be extremely careful: “don’t leave footprints.” He always used temporary phones and would never listen to unplayed messages—he would simply wait until they had been played and then return to hear the contents later.
At the News of the World, he said his concealment techniques grew lax and he started using company phones. “It was just easier. The culture there was pretty blasé about this kind of thing bizarrely,” he said. “The screwing around of people’s telephonic data was a pretty standard tool in the tabloid kit, i.e., most people knew about it.”
Evans said he hacked phones most days but also used an array of other controversial techniques, including obtaining confidential phone data, medical records and tax information. Some of this private information was gathered through “pretext blagging” which he said would involve him calling an organization and impersonating a member of staff from another company like a credit control agency and trying to obtain information on his target.
One of the biggest items in the News of the World’s budget, he said, was for coming up with “a line of deniability.” For example if they discovered that someone was having an affair, a reporter would approach those involved and offer to pay them for a confession. “Dark arts were applied to generate leads and tips which would often be locked down with the aid of a check book,” he said.
If it was impossible to buy off one of the protagonists, he told the jury, other methods would be required to cover up the true origin of the story. When he found a message on Daniel Craig’s phone from Sienna Miller, who was dating Jude Law at the time, he said he turned to Coulson for help.
He played the editor a recording of Miller’s message that he said went: “Hi, it’s me. Cannot speak, I’m at the Groucho with Jude. I love you.”
“Andy got very animated,” he said. “Everybody was having a bit of an adrenaline kick.” Evans said another reporter grabbed him by the arm and said: “You’re a company man now Dan.”
According to Evans, Coulson then allegedly said “brilliant” and told Evans to make a copy of the voicemail message, put it in a Jiffy bag and take it to reception so it would look as though it had been dropped off anonymously. Another reporter went and picked it up from security with “mock surprise” saying “look what I’ve found,” Evans recalled.
In October 2005, news of the affair appeared in the News of the World with Dan Evans’ byline.
Coulson, who quit as editor of the tabloid in 2007, denies all charges. He was later hired as Prime Minister David Cameron’s head of communications. In 2011, Cameron promised to make a “profound apology” if it transpired that Coulson had lied about having no direct knowledge of hacking.
Brooks and the five other defendants also deny the charges. The trial continues.