The Daily Mirror bought mobile phone numbers and PIN codes used to access voicemails from a private investigations agency linked to Jonathan Rees, a notorious figure who also had contracts with the News of the World, i can reveal.
Invoices held by Scotland Yard show that, starting in 1988, a senior Mirror Group executive regularly paid a company called Media Investigations Ltd, based in south London, £125 a time for mobile numbers and voicemail access codes. Media Investigations was a trading name used by Southern Investigations, a controversial private detective agency run by Rees which was put under surveillance by Scotland Yard in 1999 to obtain information on corrupt police officers.
The Daily Mirror's links to Rees pre-date the period when phone hacking became common practice at the News of the World. Rees was jailed in 2000 for conspiring to plant cocaine on an innocent mother. The News of the World re-employed Rees' services in 2006 after he got out of prison.
Mirror Group titles used Southern Investigations on 230 occasions between 1997 and 1999, running up bills totalling more than £66,000.
Southern's work for the Daily Mirror and the Sunday Mirror would not necessarily have been illegal. Phone hacking became a specified criminal offence in 2000 with the introduction of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).
The Daily Mirror and its former editor Piers Morgan have repeatedly denied that they had any knowledge of phone hacking or allowed it to be used to obtain stories. Claims for damages from alleged voicemail interception were this week lodged in the High Court in London by four individuals.
In a statement last year, Mirror Group said: "Many years ago some of our journalists used Southern Investigations. They were last used in 1999. Our position is clear. Our journalists work within the criminal law and the PCC code of conduct." Last night, a spokesman for Trinity Mirror repeated that statement.
A solicitor for Mr Rees did not respond to a request for comment.
The publisher of the Daily Mirror and The People saw its shares fall nearly 10 per cent after claims of phone hacking were lodged against its newspapers.