It appears that Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World paper is not the only publication being accused of phone hacking. Now, Piers Morgan, former Editor of the Daily Mirror, is in the hot seat for the same offense.
Phone hacking was widespread at the Daily Mirror newspaper when Piers Morgan was editor of the paper, a former employee testified Wednesday, stopping just short of saying Morgan definitely knew about it.
James Hipwell said that he “cannot prove” that Morgan knew about illegal eavesdropping, but that it was “very unlikely he did not know what was going on.”
Phone hacking “happened every day” at the Mirror’s show business desk in late 1999, Hipwell told the Leveson Inquiry, a wide-ranging government-backed investigation of British press ethics and practices.
The Leveson Inquiry was prompted by public and political outrage at the revelation that another tabloid, Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World, hacked into the phone of a missing teenage girl who later turned out to have been murdered.
Morgan, who now hosts the CNN talk show “Piers Morgan Tonight,” testified the previous day that he did not believe phone hacking had taken place when he was editor of the tabloid.
Speaking by video link, Morgan tenaciously defended himself against accusations that he knew more about phone hacking than he has admitted in the past.
Piers was questioned about a story based on a voice message Paul McCartney left for his then-wife Mills, trying to make up after a quarrel and singing to her. Morgan refused to say who played the message for him or where, but admitted that he believed it was a voice mail.
“Did you know that was unethical?” demanded Robert Jay, the lead lawyer for the inquiry. “Not unethical, no. It doesn’t necessarily follow that it was unethical,” Morgan said.
Paul McCartney’s ex-wife Heather Mills accused Morgan of using her as a “scapegoat.” On Wednesday, Mills appeared to try to shoot down speculation that she herself had played the recording for Morgan. “I can categorically state that I have never ever played Piers Morgan a tape of any kind, never mind a voice message from my ex-husband,” she said on her website.
In August, she told the BBC that a journalist working for a Mirror Group publication admitted hacking her voice mail. She said a senior Mirror Group Newspapers journalist phoned her and “started quoting verbatim the messages from my machine.” She said she replied: “You’ve obviously hacked my phone and if you do anything with this story… I’ll go to the police.” Mills said the journalist responded, “OK, OK, yeah we did hear it on your voice messages, I won’t run it.”
Former Morgan employee Hipwell painted a picture of the editor as deeply involved in the daily workings of the paper he edited from 1995 to 2004, comparing the editor to late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
Morgan “was the ‘Dear Leader.’ It was all about him,” Hipwell said. “Nothing that happened on that show business desk without Piers knowing about it,” Hipwell said.
A lawyer for Trinity Mirror, which publishes the Mirror, said the company disputed Hipwell’s testimony and would go into more detail at a future session of the inquiry.
Much of the inquiry, and a related police investigation, focus on allegations of phone hacking by the News of the World.
The publisher of the paper, News International, announced Tuesday that a subsidiary had settled with seven people who accused Murdoch’s newspapers of phone hacking.
The claimants included James Hewitt, who was a lover of Diana, Princess of Wales, and other British celebrities.
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