Neil Wallis: ‘I thought I was about to be charged’

At 9.55pm last Thursday former News of the World executive editor Neil Wallis’s lawyer received a brief email from the Crown Prosecution Service.

It said: “At 11am tomorrow morning we are going to announce a ruling on your client.”

Despite desperate attempts to find out more information, none was forthcoming. After 21 months of being questioned by the state, Wallis now had one question to fire back – was he going to be charged or cleared?

“We rang all the police officers that have been speaking to us over 21 months – six or eight officers. The lawyers started ringing at 9am the following morning. At 10am we got an answer from the CPS saying that at 10.30am you will be told.”

Wallis said he had spent the previous night in “meltdown” – “Funnily enough I thought I was about to be charged because otherwise why would you be treating people like that?”

Wallis was arrested on 8 July on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications at the height of the political storm caused by The Guardian story revealing that missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s mobile phone messages were intercepted by the News of the World in 2002.

He is convinced that his arrest was “politically motivated” and that he was finally cleared after 21 months because police could find no evidence against him.

He says he was questioned about the hacking of Milly Dowler and of the relatives of the Soham murder victims – even though he was editor of the Sunday People at the time. Wallis joined the News of the World as deputy editor in 2003 before becoming executive editor under Colin Myler in 2007.

As well as planning to rebuild his media career Wallis, 62, is now studying for an MA in criminology.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday this week he said: “US criminologist Malcolm Feeley coined the term ‘the process is the punishment’. I know exactly what that means.”

Wallis now joins former News of the World journalists Terenia Taras, James Desborough, Ross Hall and Bethany Usher, former Times journalist Raoul Simons and PA reporter Laura Elston as Weeting targets who had to suffered the anguish and trauma of arrest and a period on police bail only to be cleared.

Former News of the World reporter Dan Evans, arrested on 19 August 2011, remains on police bail.

At least 55 journalists have been arrested in various hacking-related inquiries since April 2011.

Wallis says: “A lot of people are very isolated. If you get groups of people arrested at the same time a lot of them are banned from contacting people they have worked alongside for many years and that can lead to people feeling very isolated.

“I was talking to somebody the other day who has been on bail for 15 months. Somebody else thought the decision was going to be last week was suddenly told they were going to have to wait for another month. It’s a very destabilising and difficult way to lead your life and it’s very isolating.

“I’ve been really lucky, I’ve had tremendous support from a lot of people and I hope that others get support and know that the journalistic community cares about them.”

Speaking at the launch in London this week of After Leveson, a collection of essays edited by John Mair, Wallis said the way he and others have been treated raises wider questions about the criminal justice system.

“It raises big issues not just about journalists but in other areas of law as well. There needs to be a limit to how long you keep a suspect in this country on bail.

“A friend of mine was marched down to the police station at 6am sat, in a cell for four hours while police searched his house and his two young teenage daughters stood outside their bedrooms not allowed to talk to each other while they watched policemen rifle through their underwear drawers looking for alleged evidence.”

Under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act suspects can only be questioned for 24 hours by police. But there is no limit to how long that period of questioning is stretched out over.

Wallis said: “They counted up the total hours from my various visits up and said: ‘It’s only 17 hours so that’s fine.’ By that stage I had been on bail for 20 months.”

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