Mirror group latest to be dragged into the phone hacking scandal

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by G.A.Ponsonby

A new twist emerged in the phone hacking scandal yesterday with the news that Mirror group newspapers may also have been involved in illegal eavesdropping.

A former journalist at the Daily Mirror has claimed that he witnessed phone hacking at several Mirror group newspapers and that the practice was “endemic” under the editorship of Piers Morgan.  Morgan is also a former editor of the News of the World.

The fresh allegations come from former Daily Mirror journalist James Hipwell in an interview he gave to the Independent newspaper.  Mr Hipwell has confirmed he would be willing to testify in front of a public inquiry.

James Hipwell was at the centre of a shares scandal involving Mirror newspapers in 2000 when he was fired from the Mirror after urging readers to buy shares after he had purchased them.  He was convicted of market manipulation in 2005 and served 59 days in jail.

The BBC are also reporting they have spoken to a witness who claims to have observed phone hacking taking place at Trinity Mirror newspaper offices.  According the BBC’s Newsnight programme the source described having been in a room when actress Liz Hurley’s phone was being hacked.  The practice, according to the source, was a daily occurrence.

The source also claimed that the Sunday Mirror used a voice over artist to ‘blag’ information by pretending to be celebrities, or lawyers acting on their behalf.

Until now the phone hacking scandal has exclusively centred on newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News International.  Last week executives from News International gave evidence in front of a Commons Committee looking into the scandal.

The news that Mirror Group, who own the Daily Record and Sunday mail, may also have been involved in phone hacking will cause further damage to an industry already reeling from the loss of the News of the World.  PM David Cameron is under pressure over links to former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, however Trinity Mirror are long time supporters of the Labour party and former Mirror editor Piers Morgan has himself publicly endorsed Labour in election campaigns.

Speaking in an interview on CNN on Wednesday Piers Morgan said: “For the record, in my time at the Mirror and the News of the World, I have never hacked a phone, told anybody to hack a phone or published any story based on the hacking of a phone.”

However in a recent interview in GQ magazine Morgan confirmed that phone hacking was widespread in the industry saying: “It was pretty well-known that if you didn’t change your pin code when you were a celebrity who bought a new phone, then reporters could ring your mobile, tap in a standard factory setting number and hear your messages.  That is not, to me, as serious as planting a bug in someone’s house, which is what some people seem to think was going on.

… loads of newspaper journalists were doing it.  Clive Goodman, the NOTW reporter, has been made the scapegoat for a very widespread practice … Not defending him, just expressing sympathy for someone who has been made a scapegoat.”

Trinity Mirror has denied the allegations and said its journalists work within the criminal law and Press Complaints Commission code of conduct.

Meanwhile in Scotland Strathclyde police have confirmed that they are to carry out an investigation into phone hacking and breaches of data protection.  The announcement follows claims that witnesses at Tommy Sheridan’s perjury trial may themselves have committed perjury.

Strathclyde Police began their investigation after Sheridan’s lawyer Aamer Anwar handed them a dossier of information alleging hundreds of people had been targeted by News International.

The allegations centre around a private investigator named Steve Whittamore who was paid to obtain information about celebrities and other public figures.

Whittamore was targeted by officers in charge of Operation Motorman designed to crack down on the illegal information racket.

Files obtained as part of the investigation showed that Whittamore had carried out work for the News of the World and other titles.  A report by the information commissioner revealed that Daily Mail journalists paid Whittamore on 952 occasions.  Other clients included the Daily Mirror (681), News of the World (228), Sunday Times (4) and Observer (103).

In 2006 the then Labour government were handed the results of the Operation Motorman investigation but refused to hold an inquiry into phone hacking.

 

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