City Slickers 'were told to lie to protect Mirror editor'

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The Independent Online

Tina Weaver, the former deputy editor of The Daily Mirror, and Martin Cruddace, the paper's lawyer, pressured their "City Slickers" business journalists to lie to an internal investigation, in an attempt to protect the paper's former editor Piers Morgan, a London court head yesterday.

Mr Morgan bought 20,000 shares in Viglen, a technology stock, in January 2000, shortly before the company was tipped in the paper's City Slickers column. The share price subsequently soared.

When Mr Morgan's dealings were revealed in stories in other newspapers later that week, the Mirror's owner Trinity Mirror appointed Lovells, a firm of City lawyers, to conduct an internal inquiry.

Taking the witness stand for the second day yesterday, James Hipwell, the former Mirror business journalist who is on trial for alleged market abuse, told the court that Ms Weaver and Mr Cruddace had urged him to lie to the investigators to try to protect the paper's editor from allegations of insider dealing.

"They came over to my desk and said I needed to help Piers Morgan because he was in trouble and that I should generally frustrate the Lovells investigation, and that we needed to protect Piers," he said.

"[They told me] I needed to make it clear to Lovells that Piers had not seen the Viglen story before it went into the newspaper."

However, Mr Hipwell claimed that Mr Morgan had not only seen the story but had even rewritten parts of it, as well as boasted about his holding in the company to the Mirror's other business journalist, Anil Bhoyrul.

"Anil said he had a conversation with Piers Morgan, who had been over to the desk and seen what we were writing for the next day," Mr Hipwell said. "Piers had told Anil that he had bought 20,000 shares in Viglen and [Anil] suggested that I should buy some - and so I bought the same amount."

Later in the day, Mr Hipwell was cross-examined by Philip Katz QC, who focused on his use of several investor bulletin boards on the internet. Mr Katz claimed that the City Slickers journalists had tried to "ramp" the value of shares they were planning to write about, by posting messages on the boards.

Mr Hipwell said: "For that to be true, you would have to think that the bulletin boards move the market. At no stage did we think they could or would."

He claimed his postings were made simply with a view to eliciting information about the companies he was writing about. Mr Hipwell also said he was also attempting to promote his column and the newspaper. Asked why he used an alias on the site, Mr Hipwell said that journalists often pretend to be other people.

Mr Hipwell is accused of conspiring to create a misleading view of the value of investments through the use of the City Slickers column towards the end of 1999 and the beginning of 2000. A day trader, Terry Shepherd, is also standing trial on the same charge. Mr Hipwell's former colleagues, Mr Bhoyrul and Mr Morgan, are not on trial. The case continues.

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