Evidence that cleared Piers Morgan, the editor of The Mirror, of breaching the Press Complaints Commission code of conduct has been withdrawn at the last minute by a former member of his staff.
The commission, which reports today on its three-month inquiry into share dealing at The Mirror, confirmed that Anil Bhoyrul, one half of The Mirror's former City Slickers team, made a "late change" to evidence he had submitted.
The investigation stemmed from Mr Morgan's purchase of £20,000 of shares in Viglen, a company that The Mirror later tipped. It names four members of The Mirror's staff, Piers Morgan, his deputy, Tina Weaver, and the "Slickers," Mr Bhoyrul and James Hipwell.
The commission's code says journalists should not deal in shares they may write about. After the story broke, Mr Bhoyrul was quick to defend Mr Morgan's claim that he had not known The Mirror was going to tip Viglen before he had bought the shares.
But after an internal Mirror inquiry, in which Mr Morgan was cleared, Mr Bhoyrul and Mr Hipwell were sacked without payment. A commission source confirmed that Mr Bhoyrul had since changed his statement of evidence, so that it contradicted his former editor's version of events.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme yesterday, Mr Bhoyrul claimed that many Mirror staff had known which shares the Slickers were going to tip, and any suggestion otherwise was "absolute nonsense".
He acknowledged that by "holding his hands up" and admitting his own breaking of the commission code of conduct, he was in effect accusing his former colleagues of doing the same. "That's their problem, not mine," he said.
He also appeared to suggest that The Mirror's inquiry had been a whitewash. The commission "is not The Mirror internal inquiry, where you need to say the right thing to the right people," he said.
All but one of the 16 press and "lay" commissioners are to attend this afternoon's meeting, which will discuss one of the commission's most detailed inquiries to date.
None of those named has been questioned personally, but each has been in correspondence with the commission and has been the subject of letters between it and The Mirror. Letters will be exchanged only once in most commission inquiries, but many of the The Mirror's answers had required repeated clarification, a commission source said, adding that they had co-operated "really quite fully".
The focus of wild speculation, Mr Morgan is expected to keep his job, subject to the findings of separate DTI and Stock Exchange inquiries. The highest sanction the commission could employ is the largely symbolic gesture of referring the editor's conduct to the management of his newspaper group, with the expectation that the owners would publish a public rebuke.
That has only happened once in 10 years - the previous recipient being Piers Morgan, then editor of the News of the World, after he published pictures of Victoria Spencer in a private clinic.Reuse content