Sun political editor George Pascoe-Watson received a sceptical response when he told the audience of Radio Four's Question Time that mobile phone tapping – of the type which has landed the News of the World's Clive Goodman in jail – has never happened at his paper.
When pressed by presenter David Dimbleby on the issue, Pascoe-Watson said: "To my certain knowledge it has never happened at The Sun."
Pascoe-Watson appeared on the panel programme on Friday night – just hours after Goodman was jailed and News of the World editor Andy Coulson announced his resignation.
In August, when Goodman was first charged, tabloid journalists told Press Gazette that the practice of mobile phone screwing – hacking into voicemail messages – was common among the Sundays at least. One former red-top news reporter said: "It is extremely prevalent among the Sunday tabloids — it goes on all the time.
"The process is known as screwing a phone. Most people who have mobile phones don't change the factory setting on their voicemail — it could be four zeros or 1234, something very simple like that. You might try using their birthday or something like that if they have changed the setting.
"It is a far more common practice than members of the public realise. There are some journalists who quite revel in their ability to do this."
One ‘quality' journalist told Press Gazette that phone "screwing" was not confined to the tabloids.
He said: "It's still pretty unusual, but I can think of one or two quality newspaper journalists who will know people or had some involvement in the past. Sundays are particularly prone because they've got to come up with scoops all the time and that's where the pressure is, so you can think of some of the more sensational so-called quality Sundays doing it."
An ex-News of the World staffer said the practice was so prevalent on the paper when they were there that journalists even did it to each other:
"When I was on the paper there was a war between the features department and news. Features would hack into the phone of somebody who was on the newsdesk to see what story they might be working on."