THE BLOG

No More Phone Hacking? No Great Loss

02/07/2014 16:26 BST | Updated 30/08/2014 10:59 BST

I had to sit on this story, abide by some press law. How ironic...

As a former freelance Fleet Street foot soldier, I often had tabloid hacks in the passenger seat of my car. My supporting role was to help chase the stories and babysit them in the unchartered territories of Anywhere Outside The M25.

I hardly ever stepped foot in the newspaper HQs I was hired by, but that did not stop me being privy to what was discussed between the higher echelons of the news desks and the oh-so-desperate-to-impress hacks.

I was regularly called to duty by the Sunday Mirror, and my time with it partially coincided with the stint of one Dan Evans - who gave prosecuting evidence regarding his over-zealous phone hacking skills. He has confessed to taking those skills from the Sunday Mirror to unwittingly help sink the News of the World.

I can never be sure whether any of the stories I worked on were expedited by the headlining practise of hacking. What I can be sure of is that a number of leads that had reached a dead end, had all of a sudden endless avenues after a hack's surreptitious chat with news desk elders.

It is amazing what you can learn by eavesdropping on a phone call of a hack, rather than hacking a phone of a Jude Law.

"We should pull the phone bill," was a regular request I'd overhear. The 'pulling of a phone bill' was a practise employed by certain papers, whereby a paid-off member of staff at a phone company would illegally provide an itemised list of the calls the 'subject' had made, including the frequency and duration of the calls. It would make no difference if the phone was ex-directory, of course the phone company had the detail and, for a price, so did the paper. If the search for sources needed to be widened, this was a fairly fail safe way to do it.

Another, presumably legal but certainly sinister, technique followed by many of the papers I ever doorstepped for was the use of the electoral roll website, Cameo. It was an invaluable tool when it came to identifying the right source when you only had a name to go on. Type the name into the search box and the site will provide a list of addresses and lengths of residency for everyone of said name. A process of elimination will help narrow the search; if someone has been registered at an address for 35 years then you add that figure to the minimum age of voting (a prerequisite to be on the list) and you can probably rule out that individual to be the 'fit, young blonde with a crackin' set of jubblies' your tip-off source said he saw 'consoling' a deflated England Squad football player as they entered the doors of a Travel Lodge.

When a list of suitable candidates is compiled, journalists and snappers are dispatched to the doorsteps. The formers' jobs was to coerce the 'targets' out of the door just enough so the photographer - hiding under a coat in the back of the car - can click away. If the correct source has been found and is willing to talk, then game on - coffee and biscuits are served and photographers are brought out from under their coats to get more flattering poses. If it is the right one, but they don't play ball, then it is back to your 'a close friend said' quote, fully complete with a smudgy, cropped shot of someone peeping out of their front door in their dressing gown. Meanwhile, other reporters are calling in to the news desk with failed reports of 'Nah it ain't her, this one is a fat minger/too old/black'. Consider all the tittle-tattle stories being worked on at any given time and ask yourself: 'is there an out-of-place van parked down my street right now?'

Add to that heady mix of skulduggery the staggering levels of unprofessionalism I have borne witness to. One journalist bought a bottle of pink fizz to woo a gay rights campaigner, who was considered the key to a major scoop, because 'they drink shit like that.' When the source failed to comply the atmosphere darkened with a threat to mess up the source's life, backed up with the reporter's words of 'I know people in the right places'.

Other low moments included being told not to mention the name of the paper in fear the nature of the story I was pursuing would sully its name: "Just tell 'em you're a freelancer." I've had payslips with references to innocuous stories I never worked on in order to disguise the true nature of what I had actually been asked to do.

This is all very much by the by for me, I have long since moved on. In fact I was only reminded of it all when the Metropolitan Police contacted me last year to inform me that my phone had been hacked by the News of the World, possibly upwards of 400 times.

So while our collective attentions are distracted by the death throes of the hacking trial, don't think for one moment that it isn't underhand business as usual. Who knows what they are up to now their favourite toy has been confiscated?