A convicted phone hacker and ‘self-confessed professional liar’ told the High Court today how he is assisting Prince Harry and others to sue British newspapers.
Graham Johnson agreed that he had cheated members of the public, ‘destroyed people’s lives with surgical impact’ and had ‘no integrity at all’ when he worked at the News of the World.
He told the court it was true he had once described one of his own newspaper articles as ‘1,500 words of b******s’ in which he had invented a sighting of a phantom wild cat known as ‘the Beast of Bodmin’. He agreed this was ‘a carefully crafted piece of deception designed to fool everybody’.
And another time, he had boasted how it was ‘very easy for a professional liar like me to manipulate a 12-year-old girl’ whom he had described as being involved in prostitution.
But in the witness box today, now appearing in the case for the Duke of Sussex, Mr Johnson, 55, insisted that his days as a ‘convincing faker’ were over.
Graham Johnson (pictured outside High Court), a professional phone hacker, told the High Court he had ‘destroyed people’s lives with surgical impact’ and had ‘no integrity at all’ when he worked at the News of the World
Mr Johnson, 55, appeared in the witness box today in the case for the Duke of Sussex (pictured outside High Court in March)
He was giving evidence during a seven-week trial in which Harry and three others are suing Mirror Group Newspapers alleging phone hacking, bugging, blagging and deception, which it denies.
He told Mr Justice Fancourt how he was helping the prince and other celebrities pursuing hacking claims against newspapers, including those at groups publishing the Mirror, the Sun and the Daily Mail.
It was put to him by the Mirror group’s KC Andrew Green: ‘Mr Johnson, why should the court believe you, a self-confessed professional liar who engaged in illegal activities for many years?’ Mr Johnson agreed he had repeatedly engaged in unlawful behaviour at the News of the World in the 1990s, and the Sunday Mirror in the early 2000s, but said of his nefarious skills: ‘I don’t use them in the witness box under oath at the High Court.’
He was sacked from the now-defunct News of the World in 1997 for fabricating stories and worked at the Sunday Mirror until 2005.
He was convicted of phone hacking in 2014 and given a two-month suspended sentence. But he says he converted to ‘truth-telling’ in 2007 and now runs a website, which he claims is committed to exposing wrongdoing and ‘organised crime’ in Fleet Street.
His behind-the-scenes role was questioned by Mr Green, who quizzed him about his tactics in recruiting witnesses to the cases against the newspapers.
Asked about a magazine description of him as the ‘spider at the centre of the web’ of hacking claims, Mr Johnson agreed it could be a reference to him being ‘absolutely pivotal’ to the litigation against newspapers.
Prince Harry and three others are suing Mirror Group Newspapers alleging phone hacking, bugging, blagging and deception, which it denies (pictured outside High Court in March)
The court heard there were 111 records of Mr Johnson having meetings with the claimants’ lawyers. Mr Johnson admitted he had paid various people who are now witnesses.
Asked about a private investigator known as Danno Hanks, who is due to give evidence for Harry and the other claimants today, Mr Johnson said: ‘Yes, I went to see Hanks and paid for his archive.’ Regarding Steve Whittamore, another PI also due to take to the witness box, he said: ‘I have contracted Mr Whittamore to write a book.’
He also said he had struck a deal with Christine Hart, a freelance journalist and private investigator, to pay her £16,000, and that he had a deal with a fourth PI, Gavin Burrows, to pay him £5,000 a month to ‘provide evidence to back up claims he had made’.
Asked where the funds came from, freelancer Mr Johnson insisted he was paying these people ‘personally’ and was not being funded by Hacked Off, the anti-Press campaign group.
Mr Johnson said he was buying the witnesses’ material because he was an investigative journalist the intention of publishing it on his website.
The High Court was also told of claims there is a ‘criminal investigation’ into the team behind Prince Harry’s legal actions.
A tweet written in March this year by Mr Burrows was read out, in which he alleged the duke’s lawyers and researchers had ‘exaggerated, embellished, doctored evidence’ and there were ‘bribes’.
When this was put to Mr Johnson, he replied: ‘I don’t think these tweets are accurate or true, because I don’t know if there’s a criminal investigation or an inquiry by the Law Society.’
Mr Johnson was later challenged over his witness statement. Mr Green said to him: ‘There is either something desperately wrong with your memory and evidence gathering process, or something more sinister going on which is that you are making up evidence.’
He replied: ‘I am not making up evidence… I wouldn’t have fabricated a witness statement. For the High Court.’ He also rejected Mr Green’s suggestion he had ‘utterly, utterly embellished’ an account about another aspect of his case.
Prince Harry, who is involved in six separate High Court actions, is due to address the case in June. The case continues.
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