Paxman recalls Piers Morgan hacking conversation

Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman has claimed former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan once showed him how to hack a phone.

Speaking at the Leveson Inquiry this afternoon, Paxman recalled a September 2002 lunch at Mirror headquarters during which  Morgan was “teasing” Ulrika Jonsson, former partner of ex-England football manager Sven-Göran Eriksson, telling her “he knew what had happened in the conversations between her and Sven-Göran Eriksson”.

He added that Morgan asked him if he had a mobile phone, explaining: “the way to get access to people’s messages was go to the factory default setting and press either 0000 or 1234, and that if you didn’t put on your own code — his words — ‘you’re a fool’.”

“It was clearly something that he was familiar with and I wasn’t”, Paxman said, adding he “didn’t know that this went on.”

He said he did not know if Morgan was “repeating a conversation he had heard or he was imagining this conversation”, but suggested accepting both possibilities because Morgan “probably was imagining it.”

The Newsnight anchor added that he felt the atmosphere of the lunch was “bullying”.

“I didn’t like it,” he said.

Morgan has said several times that he has “no reason to believe” that any phone hacking occurred at the Daily Mirror under his editorship from 1995-2004.

Also appearing this afternoon was former Home Secretary John Reid, who said he was not briefed on Operation Caryatid — the original phone-hacking investigation — until 8 August 2006, around the time of the arrests of the News of the World’s royal reporter Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.

“When I say that throughout this I wasn’t receiving briefings, it’s not a complaint,” Reid said, stressing that he knew “what the counter-terrorist unit had on its plate.”

Reid said the country was facing up to 70 terrorist plots when he took office in May 2006, and the timing of the Mulcaire-Goodman arrests coincided almost exactly with the arrest of the ringleader in a plot to bring down 10 trans-Atlantic airliners.

He added that it was “completely untrue” that he knew other reporters at the now-defunct tabloid might have been involved in phone hacking in 2006.

The Inquiry continues tomorrow.

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Phone hacking a "bog-standard journalistic tool", ex-Mirror reporter tells Inquiry

A former financial reporter at the Daily Mirror has told the Leveson Inquiry that phone hacking seemed to happen daily at the paper, and was “openly discussed”.

James Hipwell, who wrote the City Slickers column for the paper from 1998 before being jailed in 2006 for writing about firms he owned shares in, stood by his witness statement in which he said phone hacking was a “bog-standard journalistic tool”. He told the Inquiry the practice was openly discussed by the showbiz desk, recounting that the team had deleted a message from a celebrity’s voicemail to stop the rival paper, the Sun, intercepting and getting the story.

“It didn’t seem to me to be an ethical way to behave, but it seemed a generally accepted method to get a story,” Hipwell said.

He said he did not report the practice to former editor Piers Morgan because it seemed that it was “entirely accepted” by senior editors on the paper.” He said that, while he did not see hacking talked about in front of genuine management of the company, he witnessed it being discussed with senior editorial managers.

Hipwell also said he witnessed a colleague hacking into Morgan’s phone in early 2000, although he said he did not think it elicited any useful information.

Morgan told the Inquiry yesterday he had “no reason to believe” the practice was occurring at the tabloid while he was editor from 1995 to 2004.

In a witness statement to the Inquiry, Morgan said Hipwell’s claims were the “unsubstantiated allegations of a liar and convicted criminal.”

Hipwell said he could not prove Morgan knew about the practice, but added that “looking at his style of editorship, I would say it was unlikely he didn’t know it was going on.”

He said Morgan was the tabloid’s “beating heart” and “dear leader”. He described how Morgan would go up behind reporters and look at what they were writing on screen, and would re-write headlines and copy late at night after publication.

“The newspaper was built around the cult of Piers,” Hipwell said, noting that as editor he did his job “very well”.

Yesterday Morgan told the Inquiry editors only knew 5% of what their reporters were doing, and that he only “very occasionally” asked reporters about the sources of their stories.

Yet, Hipwell said, “nothing really happened on that [showbiz] desk without Piers knowing about it.”

Hipwell also contradicted Morgan’s statement that the PCC code was on the wall of Mirror newsroom. He told the Inquiry he was never briefed about the code or journalistic ethics, and that he did not see any visible signs of ethical leadership from the paper’s senior managers.

He said corporate governance was not a term used in the newspaper office.

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Daily Mirror journalists did not hack phones, Piers Morgan tells Inquiry

Former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan told the Leveson Inquiry he does not believe phone hacking took place at the paper under his leadership.

Morgan said he had “no reason to believe” the practice was occurring at the tabloid. He added that he has never been made aware of any evidence of paying police officers while he was at the Daily Mirror.

He admitted private investigators were used “from time to time” at the redtop, but said he was “never directly involved”.

“Certainly all journalists knew they had to act within the confines of the law,” he said.

Morgan edited the Daily Mirror between 1995 and 2004, as well as the News of the World from January 1994 to November 1995.

Speaking to the Inquiry via video link this afternoon, Morgan challenged former Mirror reporter James Hipwell’s written statement that phone hacking was so frequent it seemed like a “bog-standard journalistic tool”.

Morgan said that “not a single person has made a formal or legal complaint against the Daily Mirror for phone hacking.”

He added he did not believe he had ever listened to recordings of what he knew to be illegally obtained voicemail messages.

Being quizzed about his diary entry from January 2001, in which he referred to the “little trick” of being able to listen to mobile phone messages, Morgan said he could not remember who had made him aware of this method.

During questioning by counsel to the Inquiry, Robert Jay QC, Morgan admitted he had listened to a tape recording of a voicemail message from Sir Paul McCartney to Heather Mills, but declined to say how he obtained it so as not to “compromise” his source.

When asked if he was acting ethically, Morgan said, “it doesn’t necessarily follow that listening to someone else talking to someone else is unethical.”

Lord Justice Leveson said he was “perfectly happy” to call Mills to see whether she authorised Morgan to listen to her voicemail.

He was also asked why he said in an April 2007 interview that phone hacking was “widespread”. He replied that “the Fleet Street rumour mill, which is always very noisy and not always particularly accurate, was buzzing loudly”, adding that he felt Clive Goodman, the News of the World reporter jailed for phone hacking in the same year, was “made a scapegoat”.

“I feel sorry for him,” Morgan said.

Describing the industry, Morgan said that editors “know only 5 per cent of what their journalists are doing at any given time”, and that he had only “very occasionally” asked reporters about the sources of their stories.

He described victims’ lawyer David Sherborne’s assertion that he had learned of phone hacking through whistleblower Steven Nott as “absolute rubbish”. He said Sherborne was “massively self-inflating” the importance of the story, and that Nott was “slightly barking” and a leading a “psychotic campaign”.

The Inquiry continues tomorrow, with Hipwell giving evidence.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson