City Slickers: Even Bill Clinton wants to ask about Morgan's deals

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The Independent Online

Three weeks ago, Piers Morgan, the former editor of the Mirror, found himself sitting next to Bill Clinton at an A-list charity dinner in Dubai. While Mr Morgan had been hoping to make conversation about the Middle East peace process or the state of US politics, the former president of the United States had other things on his mind.

After several days of eyebrow-raising revelations in the UK press, surrounding Mr Morgan's involvement in the City Slickers share-tipping scandal six years ago, Mr Clinton was far more interested in hearing a first hand account of the former editor's controversial dabble in the stock market.

The trip to Dubai turned out to be ill-fated for Mr Morgan from the outset.

Days before, he had bumped into Anil Bhoyrul, one of the two journalists who wrote the Mirror's City Slickers share column, while he was handing out free copies of his book, The Insider, detailing his nine years as editor of the tabloid newspaper.

Like Mr Morgan, Mr Bhoyrul had bought shares in Viglen, a technology company, the day before they were tipped in the Mirror's City Slickers column. Unlike Mr Morgan, however, he and James Hipwell, his fellow columnist, were eventually prosecuted by the Department of Trade and Industry. Although Mr Bhoyrul had pleaded guilty to avoid a court clash, Hipwell was that very day fighting it out in a London court room 3,500 miles away.

After agreeing to go for a drink on the condition they did not talk about the Slickers trial, Mr Morgan reportedly proceeded to pour his heart out to Mr Bhoyrul, about how unhappy he had been with Hipwell's testimony from the witness stand. Not only had Hipwell told the court that Mr Morgan had encouraged his journalists to trade in the shares they wrote about, but he also accused his former boss of lying about his involvement in the Viglen affair.

Having just split up with his girlfriend, who he had started seeing when she was at The Sun four years ago, as well as also having recently lost his Channel 5 television show, Mr Morgan felt he was having a pretty bad time. In fact, things could have been a lot worse.

For the jury that tried Hipwell, Mr Morgan was conspicuous in his absence from the court. It was his personal share dealings that first attracted attention to the trading of Hipwell and Mr Bhoyrul, and which eventually led them to be prosecuted by the DTI.

As editor, it was he who was responsible for the editorial content of the paper, and, it was claimed in court, it was he who had lied to those investigating the City Slickers case. Yet Mr Morgan did not even take the stand as a witness.

Mr Morgan has said that this was because he was never called, although it emerged during the trial that lawyers representing day trader Terry Shepherd, who was also on trial, had twice asked the former editor to take the stand. He had declined.

Although the DTI eventually decided not to pursue Mr Morgan for his dealings in Viglen, the Southwark jury could have been forgiven for wondering not only why Mr Morgan had not taken the witness stand, but why he was not sitting alongside Hipwell in the dock.

Although Mr Morgan has always maintained he was unaware the Slickers were planning to tip the shares he was trading in the very next day, the version of events that emerged in court was very different.

Under oath in the witness stand, Hipwell told the jury that not only had Mr Morgan been aware the Slickers were tipping Viglen, but he had even rewritten parts of the story, and boasted to Mr Bhoyrul that he was buying a large slug of the stock.

Furthermore, when Nick Hewer, the financial public relations executive who represented Viglen, took the stand, he said that he had been asked to lie on Mr Morgan's behalf to a team of City lawyers carrying out the Mirror's internal investigation on the Slickers affair.

The inference from Mr Hewer's testimony was clear - Mr Morgan was well aware that his newspaper was writing a story about Viglen on the day he bought his shares, but after the event he had asked Mr Hewer to lie for him.

When Graham Livingston, who headed the Lovells investigation, took the stand at the trial, Michael Beckman QC, representing Shepherd, asked him whether his inquiry would have cleared Mr Morgan if it had known that he had asked Mr Hewer to lie for him. Unsurprisingly, his answer was no. Although Hipwell admitted lying to the internal inquiry by Lovells, he claimed that he had been leant on to protect Mr Morgan, by the Mirror's deputy editor, Tina Weaver, and its lawyer, Martin Cruddace. In total, Mr Morgan bought some £67,000 of shares in Viglen, making a paper profit of at least £50,000 overnight. And while he claims that he later sold them and gave the proceeds to charity, it is still unclear as to whether he disposed of the shares he bought on his wife's account.

Although Mr Morgan was found in breach of the Press Complaints Commission code, and duly censured, it remains unclear as to whether his trading actions were in breach of the law. However, if the evidence that has emerged in court is accurate, it would appear that he was guilty of lying both to the internal investigation, and to the DTI. Given that the DTI interview was under oath, the Department could now have grounds to press charges against Mr Morgan for trying to pervert their inquiry.

In the US last year, it was this that the celebrity businesswoman, Martha Stewart, went to jail for - not for the allegations of insider trading that had been made against her.