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Scotland Yard Stint Lands Former Editor in Spotlight
One aspect of the tangled phone-hacking scandal in the U.K. is the alleged cozy relationships between tabloid editors and top police officers and leading politicians. Those connections are increasingly coming into view via the figure of Neil Wallis, a former editor at the News of the World.
A Newsman Nicknamed ‘Wolfman’
After a career in tabloids, Neil Wallis went into public relations.
- Wallis worked at the Daily Star until 1986
- He joined the Sun in 1986; he was associate editor from 1990-93, then deputy editor from 1993-1998
- He was editor of Sunday People from 1998-2003
- Wallis was deputy editor of News of the World from 2003-2007, a time when Andy Coulson was editor; he was executive editor there from 2007-2009
- In 2009, he left journalism to work for Outside Organization, a public-relations firm; he became its managing director in 2010.
- Wallis’s company, Chamy Media, provided “strategic communication advice and support” to Scotland Yard from Oct. 2009 to Sept. 2010.
Source: Debrett’s; WSJ reporting
Mr. Wallis—an archetypal Fleet Street newspaperman known for aggressive tactics—was arrested last week in connection with phone-hacking probe at the News of the World, where he had been deputy editor. News Corp.shut down the weekly tabloid two weeks ago amid the scandal. The Metropolitan Police disclosed it employed Mr. Wallis as a paid PR adviser from October 2009-September 2010.
Though Mr. Wallis was released and hasn’t been charged, there is a political dust-up following disclosures that a person who was an editor at the paper at the time of its alleged transgressions has done public-relations work for British law enforcement.
Additionally, the Conservative Party on Tuesday said Mr. Wallis was informally—on an unpaid basis—helping Andy Coulson, a former communications strategist for Tory leader David Cameron, in the run-up to his successful election campaign as prime minister. Mr. Coulson was Mr. Wallis’s former boss at the News of the World.
Mr. Coulson resigned his government job earlier this year as the scandal mounted. He was recently arrested amid the investigation. Mr. Coulson was released and hasn’t been charged.
In the eyes of his critics, Mr. Wallis is controversial not only for having worked at News of the World when phone-hacking allegedly occurred, but also because he exemplifies the often-ruthless world of British tabloid journalism.
Mr. Wallis didn’t respond to requests for an interview and his attorney didn’t return calls.
Mr. Wallis began his career at a tabloid called Daily Star, where we worked until 1986. He then joined the Sun newspaper, and was seen as a rising star. In 1987, he was one of the reporters who authored a sensational exposé of Elton John’s alleged sex life. The singer sued and the Sun—also owned by News Corp.—paid £1 million ($1.61 million) in compensation and printed an apology to him on its front page.
News Corp. also owns The Wall Street Journal.
While editor of the People newspaper in 2001, Mr. Wallis oversaw the publication of naked pictures of a British radio broadcaster, Sara Cox, taken on her honeymoon. The case went before the U.K.’s Press Complaints Commission, a press watchdog group where Mr. Wallis was a member at the time, and the paper published an apology.
Ms. Cox also sued and went on to win a privacy case against the newspaper and was awarded about £50,000 in damages, plus legal costs, according to press accounts from that time.
At a parliamentary hearing on Tuesday about missteps in an earlier investigation into hackingt allegations, departing Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson said that he was unaware of connections between the police public-relations adviser and the News of the World.
Sir Paul said that Mr. Wallis’s job was a “part time, minor role” and he wasn’t aware of his former role with News of the World. “I had no reason to connect Wallis with phone hacking, nothing had come to my attention,” he told the committee.
Web of Connections
Learn more about who’s who and how they’re all connected in the scandal over allegations of voice-mail interceptions and corrupt payments to police.
Mr. Wallis’s hiring at Scotland Yard had been vetted by a committee that included departing assistant commissioner John Yates, the officer who in 2009 had decided not to reopen an investigation into alleged phone-hacking of royals, politicians and celebrities by News of the World employees.
Sir Paul and Mr. Yates resigned earlier this week, saying that the scandal could distract them from their jobs.
Interviews with several other journalists who knew Mr. Wallis, or who worked in the same newsroom, describe him as the quintessential tabloid editor—a glowering presence with a nose for news, who frequently exhorted his staff with expletive-laced orders. Because of his short stature and the beard he often sported, Mr. Wallis was nicknamed “Wolfman” —a moniker he apparently liked, according to former colleagues.
“He was a forceful character who carried on like Napoleon. But he wasn’t unique in that,” said Ben Proctor, who worked with Mr. Wallis at both the Sun and the News of the World.
“Some editors preferred to sit behind office doors but not him,” said James Fletcher, a former sportswriter for News of the World. “To be a proper tabloid journalist, you couldn’t be a shrinking violet.”