Neil Wallis: 'After four years of utter hell and devastation the case against me was: Well, he must have known' - Press Gazette

Neil Wallis: 'After four years of utter hell and devastation the case against me was: Well, he must have known'

Despite being found not guilty of hacking, former News of the World deputy editor Neil Wallis says the prosecution has cost him his life savings, his marriage and four years of his life.

If Wallis had been found guilty he would have faced an order to pay the prosecution costs on top of his own. But having been found innocent he has been told he has no chance of recouping legal fees which have run into the hundreds of thousands.

Unlike former News of the World editors Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, who faced trial last year, Wallis has not been given any legal support by his former employer, News Corp.

He was first arrested in July 2011. He was questioned repeatedly by police over the following 21 months that he was kept on bail and then told by the CPS in March 2013 that he would face no further action.

After the conclusion of the first hacking trial – involving Coulson, Brooks and others – the police and CPS performed an about-turn and Wallis was charged with conspiracy to hack phones in July 2014.

Wallis’s prosecution largely rested on testimony from former News of the World reporter Dan Evans – who has previously admitted involvement in hacking, illegal payments and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Evans avoided a prison term after giving evidence against colleagues in the first hacking trial.

Wallis told Press Gazette that even after he was first cleared by the CPS, he feared the prosecution would return.

“I knew they had too much invested in this to just let it go," he said.

“It was always hanging there because I knew how much they disliked the fact that I had spoken out about endless bail and stuff like that. 

“My friends were warning me, why don’t you just shut up on this Neil because they will come back and get you. I didn’t think that would be right but anyway I wasn’t going to stop speaking out over that issue which I felt very strongly about.”

Wallis’s ordeal and that of other journalists helped prompt the Justice Delayed Justice Denied campaign, which has resulted in a government plan to impose strict new limits on the use of police bail.

Wallis describes himself as a supporter of the police, but feels that Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe is at fault over the way he has been treated.

“Hogan-Howe, given the chance, would still have journalists lined up outside his door taking handouts when it suited him but sent to jail if we dared pick up a story that he didn’t approve of.

“Given the chance, that’s where he would be – and so many other major police officers are in that place now. It’s absolutely shameful and Hogan-Howe in particular is a shameful man.”

Noting that Dan Evans has previously admitted lying in court, Wallis said: “He was the basis upon which they decided to charge me. They clung to the idea he had some influence in the Coulson trial – personally, I don’t think he made a ha'ppeny worth of difference.

“They reignited this purely on the word of a proven criminal and liar.”

Police could question Wallis for 24 hours under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act before needing further approval. He believes this PACE 'clock' was used to intimidate him.

He said: “There was a police officer who, quite consciously after my third interview, sat with the police desk sergeant in Hammersmith Police Station, I was two feet away.

“They sat there and counted up how many hours of interviews they had done over the last 21 months and it came to 17 hours.

“She glanced at me and said ‘we’ve got loads of time, we can keep him going for hours and hours yet’. In other words we can keep you dangling like this for as long as we like. It was pure intimidation."

Wallis is estranged from his wife and says that the four-year ordeal has cost him his marriage. But he paid tribute to his wife and children for standing by him and insisting that he fight the case.

He said: “She stood four square with me and most of our life savings has gone on this. Hundreds of thousands of pounds.”

Wallis has been told he has no chance of getting his legal fees back from the state.

He said: “Because of the delay in charging me, I can’t get that money back. They changed the law so that a defendant can’t reclaim the costs.

“I’m a cheerfully right-of-centre law and order guy. I’m the guy who invented the Police Bravery Awards.

“I’ve always been firmly behind the police, and still am in many ways. But this has been a revelation to me about what goes on and about how the system works. Many things have shocked me, not least that they can do this and I have no redress.”

He added: “I’m more than happy if Mr Murdoch has a change of heart and decides that after all he should do the right thing. But as yet I’ve certainly seen no suggestion that he will.”

Wallis revealed that at one stage he considered pleading guilty purely to put an end to the process.

He said: “At one point, I weakened when I couldn’t cope with the strain any longer and though it would have been easier to have just ended the strain, saved that money – short-circuited the whole process. But it didn’t last long and all those around me said no, I mustn’t do it. Everybody who cared for me said no I must not do that. I weakened, but not for long.”

Wallis said he has been buoyed by a “tremendous amount of support” from the journalism industry.

He singled out former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie, who has been an “absolute rock”, former Mirror editor Piers Morgan, Andy Coulson, Lee Clayton from the Daily Mail and PR industry figures Neil Reading and Ian Monk.

Wallis also said that Twitter had helped him cope.

“I had a tremendous amount of trolling but also get a tremendous amount of support from people on Twitter which is why it was so important to tweet yesterday to say thank you. The support has been incredible.”

Wallis said he has had backing from across the journalism industry, tabloid and broadsheet, and particularly from reporters who cover the crime and home affairs beats.

During the five days that the jury was considering a verdict Wallis, who suffers from asthma, said he went into court each day carrying a bag “rattling with medication” in case the decision went against him and he was sent straight to prison.

He described the two-week Old Bailey trial as “incredibly harrowing”.

He said: “I was in the witness box for nearly four days. Much of that was being attacked by the CPS.

“There was no attempt at getting to the truth of anything. All they were interested in was getting a conviction in their case, which they pretty much admitted was ‘well you must have known’.

“That was their case. Because of the structure of the conspiracy laws that’s what they can do.

“The extent of their case after four years of utter hell and devastation was: ‘Well, he must have known – nudge, nudge, wink, wink.'”

Asked what his response was to this suggestion that he “must have known” phone-hacking was going on at the News of the World, Wallis said: “I didn’t know.”

He said: “Just like Gary Thompson the number three didn’t know, Rebekah Brooks – the editor before Coulson, who was editor when [private investigator and phone-hacker] Glenn Mulcaire was given his first contract in 2001 two years before I arrived. The jury decided she didn’t know.

“Stuart Kuttner, the man who paid all those bills, the jury decided he didn’t know either.

“They arrested Tom Crone the office lawyer, he was NFAd [no further action]. There were little pockets  of people in one place who knew and sadly it went on.

“But this whole thing was driven by police, politicians and Hacked Off – may they hang their heads in shame forever.

“It was all part of the political attack on the press which very honourably Press Gazette has been at the forefront of standing tall against.”

Asked what he thinks the lessons are of his experience, he said: “My main thought would be, I hope to God that the press is not cowed by this. That’s what it was designed to do. That’s what they want to happen.

“I just hope to God that the press is unbowed by it and stands tall and continues to expose those people who would rather we didn’t have the right to expose anything.”

Wallis, who is 64, now plans to go back to building up the PR business which he had started before his arrest.

“It’s been hard. But this morning here I am, I am stood up and thinking ‘right what do I do now?’”



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Author: Dominic Ponsford

Dominic Ponsford is the editor of Press Gazette