Piers Morgan has strenuously denied knowing “anything about” phone hacking at the Mirror and said he “couldn’t give a monkey’s cuss” about the High Court case brought by Prince Harry.
The Duke of Sussex and other celebrities including Coronation Street actors Nikki Sanderson and Michael Le Vell have accused Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) of unlawful information gathering, including phone hacking and the use of private investigators.
On the second day of the seven-week trial, which began on Wednesday, the duke’s lawyer David Sherborne told the court that Mr Morgan “lies right at the heart” of the allegations, and insisted it was “inconceivable” that he and several other MGN editors had been unaware of the alleged wrongdoing.
MGN apologised to the duke at the trial’s outset for one instance involving a private investigator, but the publisher is contesting the other claims, for which its lawyer Andrew Green KC on Thursday insisted there was “barely any evidence”.
While Mr Morgan – who edited the Daily Mirror from 1994 until 2005 – is not required to give evidence at the trial, he discussed the matter in a wide-ranging interview in March with the BBC’s Amol Rajan, broadcast as the High Court proceedings began.
Pressed on the fact that at least five people have previously been awarded damages by MGN for phone hacking while he was editor, including actors Sadie Frost and Shane Richie, Mr Morgan noted that he only worked for the Daily Mirror and “never had any responsibility” for the Sunday Mirror or Sunday People.
He added: “There’s no evidence I knew anything about any of it. I never told anybody to hack a phone. And [none] … of the hundreds and hundreds – thousands, possibly – of journalists who worked with me on the Daily Mirror have ever even been arrested in connection with phone hacking.
“So there are lots of civil things going on, but the bar for that is a lot lower than it is for any criminal action … I’ve not been involved in any of these settlements at all. Nobody has even asked me for my opinion, which I think says it all.”
“I’ve not been called to give evidence, I know nothing about it,” he told BBC News, describing phone hacking as “completely wrong” and “lazy journalists being lazy”.
Questioned about being viewed as a “hands-on editor” – a description levied against him in court on Thursday in connection with a story about Prince Michael of Kent alleged to have been “obtained illegally” – Mr Morgan said: “I didn’t [know about hacking]. So I don’t care whether it stretches people’s credulity or not.”
He added: “Can you be absolutely certain what everyone is doing all the time? Of course you can’t, we had hundreds and hundreds of people in the newsroom. I can be certain about what I knew and what I did, and no one has ever produced anything to contradict what I’m saying.”
Asked whether it isn’t the most basic job of an editor to be sure nothing illegal is taking place, Mr Morgan replied: “How can you be?”
Claiming he was “not at all” worried about Harry’s legal action, he insisted he “couldn’t give a monkey’s cuss”, accusing the duke of flying from the US to “lecture the media once again about invasion of privacy and intrusion, and yet he is the biggest invader of privacy in royal history.”
“So I’m not going to take any lectures from him and I don’t give a damn what actions he wants to take. Good luck to you. It’s like being lectured on the truth by Donald Trump,” he added.
During the Leveson Inquiry, Mr Morgan was pressed on a statement of his to the Press Gazette about phone hacking in 2007, in which he described it as “an investigative practice that everyone knows was going on at almost every paper in Fleet Street for years”
That inquiry also saw former BBC journalist Jeremy Paxman tell Lord Justice Leveson that Mr Morgan once told him how to hack a phone, which he claimed was “clearly something that he was familiar with”.
Asked by Rajan whether Paxman’s remarks “undermined his defence”, Mr Morgan called them “complete bull****” and said he had told the former University Challenge host “to be careful about phone security” because of “a new thing doing the rounds” of listening to people’s voicemails.
Comparing it to warning someone about “a spate of muggings”, he added: “I was completely honest about it, I was open – it was in front of my chairman, it was in front of the BT boss, in front of all these people.”