Ex-Sunday Mirror journalist Dan Evans tells court how he became 'in-house hacker' after tutoring from 'inner circle'

Former Sunday Mirror journalist Dan Evans (pictured, Reuters) told the High Court yesterday how he would "place myself in [the] shoes" of phone-hacking targets to crack their PIN codes.

Appearing voluntarily at the Mirror Group Newspapers phone-hacking compensation trial, Evans said he had 800 names on his Palm Pilot and guessed that he successfully hacked around a quarter of the people on his list.

Acknowledging that he was the newspaper's "in-house hacker", Evans also told how he carried out phone-hacking at his own home "for the most part", but also from his car and occasionally from his desk at work.

When being cross-examined by Matthew Nicklin, QC, for MGN, he agreed that journalists given information dervied from hacking to use in stories would not necessarily know where it had come from.

He told the court that an "inner circle or sanctum" of journalists at the Sunday Mirror "tasked me and tutored me" in the practice, which has been described by the hacking claimants' barrister, David Sherborne, as rife across all three of MGN's national titles by mid-1999.

Evans also told the court how he expressed his "deep, deep regret" to two victims of phone-hacking and said he was appearing voluntarily because "it's the right thing to do".

Evans, who became the "in-house hacker" at the Sunday Mirror in April 2003, said that he had a "face-to-face" meeting with two of the individuals involved – BBC executive Alan Yentob and actress Lucy Taggart.

"I was able to express my deep deep regret. I would be happy to speak to anybody who wanted to speak to me."

With Yentob, "it was a case of meeting the gentleman, looking him in the eye and saying 'I am very sorry'".

Evans, who left the Sunday Mirror to join the News of the World in December 2004 and was given a ten-month suspended prison sentence last July after admitting phone-hacking, told the court he mostly used Pay As You Go mobile phones, which were periodically destroyed by being thrown into the Thames, and would make about 250 calls a day to 100 targeted individuals.

If the target's number was protected by a personal four-digit PIN code, rather then a default PIN, it was "a bit of a nightmare" as there were 10,000 possible variations. Sometimes it was necessary to make thousands of calls just to crack a PIN.

"I would place myself in their shoes and think, if I were them, what would I do? Sometimes that would produce a result."

Later, actress and businesswoman Sadie Frost described a Daily Mirror story, the product of phone-hacking, about her attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting as the "lowest of the low".

The 49-year-old said the article, published in October 2005, left her feeling "incredibly embarrassed and humiliated".

She told a judge in London that at the time she had been advised to go a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous "because it was a safe place".

Frost, who was previously married to actor Jude Law, was giving evidence at a trial to determine what compensation should be paid by Mirror Group Newspapers in eight representative cases, including former footballer Paul Gascoigne, TV executive Alan Yentob, and soap stars Shobna Gulati and Shane Richie.

She said she had never spoken publicly about the meeting before the story was published in October 2005.

"Someone quite high-profile took me there and I went there after everyone said it would be safe and anonymous," she told the court.

Asked by her barrister, Sherborne, how she felt when she saw the story, she told Mr Justice Mann: "I felt incredibly embarrassed and humiliated."

Sherborne told the court that Frost was complaining about 31 articles – 27 of them admitted by MGN to be the product of phone-hacking.

Referring to the AA meeting, Frost said she was told it was somewhere she could go to find "peace of mind", help and "somewhere I could breathe".

Frost said: "I was going through what people go through every day – breakdown of a family, divorce. I had a baby, I was breastfeeding, and a baby nearly two. I was not particularly well at the time.

"They created a persona of me, not going to the gym, being an under-dog, not studying or working. They like to paint women going through divorce as sad, lost, reckless.

"I was someone trying to put my life back together and every day they were trying to paint a more and more negative picture of me and my family.

"I couldn't take my youngest son to the park for two years because he was photographed. He would cry and I would get panic attacks. I lost two to three years of my life, they wanted me to fail.

"I was portrayed as troubled, sad, as a party-girl. That's not why people go to AA. They go there to get help and be in a safe place."

She said the articles published about her covered all aspects of her life, including her friendships, work and medical matters: "If I went to the doctor or gynaecologist, details would be in the newspaper."

She said there was "no safe place" in her life.

"There was no glowing good part of your life. Everybody who was part of my life was affected. I couldn't go and sit with my mum and have a cup of tea because I thought she was selling stories. I didn't trust my own mother.

"Every area of my life was affected. There was nowhere I could go that was safe."

She said it felt "absolutely awful" not to be able to trust close members of her family.

"Your father is dying, you are going through divorce, you have postnatal depression, you are in and out of hospital, my baby was ill – he was born premature.

"I needed my loved ones around me. I was very upset, I was a very, very unhappy person.

"Every time I turned to someone to confide in them, it ended up in the newspapers, which added to my distress and trauma."

In her written statement, Frost said that her divorce from Jude Law, from whom she split in 2003 was an extremely difficult point in her life.

"I was at breaking point, I could not sleep, or eat, and I did not know who to trust as information kept getting into the media.

"I thought it might be Jude – trying to make me look bad for custody reasons – or my friends or family using me for their own gains. Either thought was heartbreaking.

In early 2003, she had a breakdown and went into hospital, which was a "terrible " incident in her life but ended up in the papers.

One article she complained about, in June 2003, focused on her concerns about Law and Nicole Kidman.

"Whether there was any truth in them or not, I did have them but I only shared them, and the fact they were the source of arguments, with those closest to me.

"This was a deeply stressful time in my life and the fact my insecurities were being publicised obviously made it worse.

"In every relationship, it feels like a betrayal when private arguments are shared with other people – in my and Jude's case, the detail was shared with the whole world and we each thought the other was to blame."

Frost said that for many years, she was in a "living hell".

Some friends eventually said they did not want to know anything about her life as they did not want to be suspected. In turn, friends – particularly model Kate Moss – questioned whether they could trust her.

"Even worse than that, Jude, the father of my children, thought for years that I was selling stories which created an animosity between us that has only really disappeared since the revelations about phone-hacking."

She added: "I was portrayed for so long as a complete mess that I have had to overcome people's perception of me to rebuild my reputation as a successful businesswoman. I can only guess at the position I would be in if none of this had happened."

It felt like she and those closest to her were "being monitored and hunted down by a sort of secret police".

She said that the apology she had received from MGN was "rather too little too late".

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