The News of the World repeatedly hacked into the voicemail of Sven-Göran Eriksson over a four-year period as it exposed his sex life and then set him up for a sting by its “fake sheikh” reporter, Mazher Mahmood, an Old Bailey jury heard yesterday. At the climax of the campaign, the court was told, the then England manager announced that he would resign, and the newspaper prominently claimed the credit for his fall.
In 2004, Greg Miskiw, a news editor, tasked the specialist hacker Glenn Mulcaire to hack Eriksson, the prosecution said. This time, the notes that were shown to the jury included the home address and phone number of Faria Alam, a secretary at the Football Association.
The News of the World then published a sequence of stories exposing her relationship with Eriksson (“Sven’s secret affair”) and with a senior FA executive (“I bedded Sven and his boss”). The stories were among those which won the News of the World the award for Newspaper of the Year 2004-05, the court heard.
Two years later, Mulcaire returned to Eriksson’s phone, repeatedly calling into his number in January 2006, allegedly listening to his private messages. On 22 January, the News of the World published a series of embarrassing comments which Eriksson had made to the paper’s undercover reporter Mahmood, under the headline “This man is a crook”.
Mulcaire’s phone records suggest that he continued to hack the England manager’s phone until Eriksson announced that he would resign, the prosecution told the jury. The prosecution said the targeting of Eriksson dated back to 2002. Notes written by Mulcaire suggest that Eriksson was first hacked in 2002 on four occasions on the instructions of two senior executives at the News of the World: Miskiw and the then news editor, Neville Thurlbeck.
Mulcaire’s notes of the time, which are scrawled by hand and intersected by arrow-marks and doodles, included Eriksson’s name and mobile phone number and the personal details of an unrelated pole-dancer from Brighton who had also been targeted. Mulcaire, Miskiw and Thurlbeck have all pleaded guilty to charges of phone hacking. During the targeting of Eriksson’s phone, the jury has been told, the paper was edited by Rebekah Brooks in 2002. In 2004 and 2006, the editor was Andy Coulson. Brooks and Coulson have denied conspiring to intercept communications.
Earlier, the jury heard that a team of reporters from the News of the World had descended on a recruitment agency in Telford, Shropshire, in April 2002 when a hacked voicemail led Thurlbeck to believe that the agency had given work to the missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler. The evidence included allegations that a reporter had falsely claimed to be working with the police and that somebody had tried to get information from the agency by pretending to be Milly’s mother.
The court heard that one of the reporters who was sent to Telford, Vanessa Altin, had been working undercover in the Sugar Lounge club in Manchester, looking for stories about Manchester United players who drank there, when Thurlbeck told her he believed the recruitment agency had found Milly work at an Epson factory in Ironbridge, Shropshire.
In a statement to police, Altin said she had thought this was “far-fetched in the extreme” and that it was a “pointless waste of time”. Nevertheless, she told police, Thurlbeck had sent her and six others to pursue the story.
Staff from the recruitment agency described to police how an unidentified woman made three calls to them claiming to be Milly Dowler’s mother and wanting to know whether they had given work to her daughter. They has refused to give her information. The agency’s owner, Valerie Hancox, told police that a News of the World reporter had come to her house. “He told me he was helping police with their inquiries,” she said in a statement read to the jury.
“He was not aggressive. He was well-mannered. He asked if I wanted to help Milly Dowler. He informed me he was working with the police investigation team.”
On Monday, the jury heard that after his reporters had returned empty-handed from Telford, Thurlbeck had called Surrey police, who were investigating Milly Dowler’s disappearance, and told them that the recruitment agency had confirmed that they had given work to the missing girl. The paper’s crime reporter, Ricky Sutton, had told a Surrey police press officer that he was “100% certain” the story was true.