Info@NationalCyberSecurity
Info@NationalCyberSecurity

Piers Morgan’s phone-hacking denial: still utterly unpersuasive | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker


On 15th December last year, Piers Morgan stood in front of his London home and told the assembled cameras there that he had never hacked a phone nor told anyone else to. “Nobody has provided any actual evidence to prove that I did,” he said.

His statement was provoked by the judgement handed down in Prince Harry’s high-profile case against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) last year, in which the Mr Justice Fancourt found that “there can be no doubt” that editors—including Morgan, former editor of the Daily Mirror—knew about the phone hacking in their newsrooms. 

That case heard “actual evidence” of two different kinds.

First, there was general evidence about what was happening across the Mirror newspapers as a whole. A large collection of emails, invoices for private investigators and witness statements had already been deployed in an earlier Mirror Group trial, in 2015. The findings from the judgement in that trial were adopted in the Prince Harry case by Mr Justice Fancourt, to the effect that “Phone hacking and other unlawful information-gathering were used in an extensive and habitual way across all three national MGN titles during the period 1999-2006.” Piers Morgan edited the Daily Mirror from 1995 to 2004. The Mirror Group has accepted that these findings applied to all the desks of all three national titles.

Continuing to describe these earlier general findings about the Mirror titles, Fancourt said: “There was a widespread culture of phone hacking, extending from journalists up to editors… Editorial staff not only knew about the practice of phone hacking but were likely to have conducted it themselves—it existed at the highest level on the journalism side of the business.” 

The court built on this earlier general evidence but also examined a new collection of more recently disclosed call data, documents and witness statements. The Mirror Group challenged much of the claimants’ interpretation of the new material. Based on the totality of evidence from both trials, Mr Justice Fancourt concluded: “There is compelling evidence that the editors of each newspaper knew very well that voicemail interception was being used extensively and habitually and that they were happy to take the benefits of it.”

In addition to this generalised material, both trials heard evidence that related directly to individual editors. In Piers Morgan’s case, this consisted of what he called “many false allegations that were spewed about me in court by old foes of mine with an axe to grind.” The court considered evidence from six witnesses who described alleged incidents involving him. 

David Seymour, who was political editor for the Mirror Group as a whole, said he had been walking through the newsroom one day, probably in March 2001, when he came across Morgan standing with a group of reporters. “Listen to this,” Morgan had said before playing a recording of Paul McCartney singing a Beatles song in a voicemail he had left for his then partner, Heather Mills. Mr Justice Fancourt said: “Mr Seymour struck me as a man of intelligence and integrity. I accept his evidence without hesitation.”

Benjamin Wegg-Prosser, formerly Tony Blair’s director of strategic communications in Downing Street, described having a Chinese meal with Morgan at the Labour party conference in September 2002, and asking how the Daily Mirror had got the story earlier that year of the then England football manager, Sven-Goran Eriksson, having a relationship with the TV presenter Ulrika Jonsson. He said that Morgan had then described the technique for accessing voicemail, adding words to the effect: “That was how we got the story on Sven and Ulrika.” The MGN lawyers did not challenge this evidence. 

The judge noted the separate evidence, under oath to the Leveson inquiry, of Jeremy Paxman, describing a meal at which he claimed to have heard Morgan teasing Jonsson about having heard her messages. 

Jonsson’s agent, Melanie Cantor, told the court that Morgan always seemed to be the first person to know about events that had recently happened. More recently, Cantor had learned that MGN invoices showed she had been targeted by private investigators who used unlawful methods and that her mobile phone had been called more than 400 times by Mirror journalists who are now known to have been involved in hacking. The Mirror Group did not challenge her evidence. The judge said: “The inference is an obvious one: Ms Cantor’s phone and the phones of her associates were hacked and the obviously confidential and sensitive information obtained was passed to Mr Morgan, who must have known how it had been obtained and made use of it.”

James Hipwell, who was a reporter at the Daily Mirror for two years from April 1998, gave evidence in the first trial that was adopted in the second. He said that he had sat next to the showbusiness desk, where he believed phone hacking was “rife” and where the reporters “did not attempt to hide their hacking from each other or their superiors.” Hipwell did not claim he had ever seen Morgan hack or order a hacking, only that it was “inconceivable” that he did not know that he was publishing stories that had come about as a result of it. Mr Justice Mann, in the 2015 trial, said he found his evidence “convincing”.

Omid Scobie, a journalist now specialising in the royal family, told the court that, as a student in 2002, he had spent a week with the “3am team” who wrote showbusiness gossip for the Daily Mirror. He claimed he had heard Morgan being told about a story about Kylie Minogue and the model James Gooding, who had been long-term partners. Morgan was told the story had come from voicemails. The judge noted that a story about Minogue and Gooding was published at that time under the byline of a known hacker, with a corresponding PI invoice with both of their mobile phone numbers. “These documents bear out Mr Scobie’s recollection,” the judge said. “I found Mr Scobie to be a straightforward and reliable witness and I accept what he said about Mr Morgan’s involvement in the Minogue/Gooding story.”

In disputing Mr Justice Fancourt’s judgement, Morgan said: “I know the judge appears to have believed the evidence of Omid Scobie, who lied about me in his new book and he lied about me in court, and the whole world now knows him to be a deluded fantasist.” Morgan added that Fancourt “believed the evidence of Alastair Campbell, another proven liar who spun this country into an illegal war.” Campbell had not accused Morgan of hacking phones but said the Mirror had used a notorious PI firm, Southern Investigations, to try to obtain confidential information from his building society. Mr Justice Fancourt concluded that Morgan “would have known” about the attempted sting. 

Morgan also claimed that, during his nine years as editor, the judge found there was “just one article relating to [Prince Harry]… that he thinks may have involved some unlawful information-gathering”, adding, “All his other claims against the Daily Mirror under my leadership were rejected.” 

That appears to be a misreading of the judgement, which explains that although Prince Harry identified 148 Mirror Group articles which appeared to have involved unlawful methods, for the purposes of the trial the two sides together had agreed to focus on a sample of only 33. “For that reason,” the judge explained, “some are likely more strongly to support the Duke’s case and others are more likely to support MGN’s.” As it is, the judge found that one of the few stories selected by the claimants from Morgan’s period as editor was “very likely” to have used unlawful methods, including hacking. He made no finding at all on the other 115 about which Prince Harry complained, including others from Morgan’s time as editor.

Observers noted that in speaking to the cameras outside his home, Morgan appeared to have changed his position since giving evidence under oath to the Leveson inquiry. At that time he said that he did not believe that any phone hacking had taken place under his editorship at the Daily Mirror and he said he believed he had not listened to any illegally obtained voicemail messages. Lord Justice Leveson described his evidence as “utterly unpersuasive.”

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