Echoes of Gilligan affair as Morgan insists reports are true

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The Independent Online

As the incoming bombardment from the Ministry of Defence exploded around him yesterday afternoon, Piers Morgan remained firmly ensconced in his trench, determined to fight on.

The editor of the Daily Mirror has dug himself in, resisting all suggestions that he should abandon the post that he has occupied for the past nine years.

Inside the Mirror's offices in the Canada Square tower at Canary Wharf in London's Docklands, Mr Morgan sat on the newspaper's backbench reading in a loud and mocking voice the accounts of his demise in rival newspapers. One Mirror source said: "He has been entertaining us with the stories of how he is tense and under fire."

Mr Morgan's colleagues were equally unruffled by yesterday's exchanges. Many Mirror journalists were rather quicker than the Armed Forces minister, Adam Ingram, in forming the conclusion that the photographs that their newspaper had published were not genuine. They acknowledged yesterday that they had believed this for more than a week and that, as a consequence, the claims of the MoD came as no surprise and changed nothing.

Loyal senior executives instantly backed Mr Morgan's decision to "brazen out" the dispute, confident in his ability to survive; he has already escaped one "Mirrorgate" among a multitude of other sticky episodes in his long editorship.

"The atmosphere is like it always is when we are leading the headlines. Piers is leading from the front. He's as visible and voluble in the newsroom as he always is," said one Mirror journalist. The source said the MoD had failed to address claims of abuse uncovered by the newspaper.

Mr Morgan, the presenter of the television programme Tabloid Tales, is such a dominant figure on his newspaper that there is some sense that if the editor goes down then the Mirror goes with him.

Higher up the chain, the Mirror's management has also been supportive. Mr Morgan's defiant statement yesterday - in which he attacked the Government for failing to act on information about the abuse of Iraqis by British troops - could not have been issued without clearance from Trinity Mirror's chief executive, Sly Bailey. Mr Morgan described Mr Ingram's claim that the Mirror had not cooperated with the investigation into the veracity of the pictures as a "nonsense".

So, 12 months after Andrew Gilligan's fateful report on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, the Government and the MoD are again locked in a protracted dispute with a media organisation. Both of the stories have been attacked for having consequences that are potentially fatal.

Again, ministers have entered the fray, making public accusations of distortion and deceit. As before, the media organisation has argued that the Government is quibbling over a detail in an attempt to deflect attention from the wider picture.

In his statement yesterday, Mr Morgan said: "There is, of course, a much bigger issue here that we make no apology for highlighting, which is that the pictures accurately illustrated the reality about the appalling conduct of some British troops."

His comments bore a similarity to claims by the BBC that Mr Gilligan's report accusing the Government of inserting false information into an official dossier had highlighted wider failings in Tony Blair's case for going to war in Iraq.

When the official inquiry into Mr Gilligan's story was published it led to the downfall of the BBC's director general, Greg Dyke, and the BBC's chairman, Gavyn Davies.

But the Daily Mirror is a commercial enterprise rather than a public service institution. Sources close to the Mirror editor suggested yesterday that Mr Morgan's critics had but two hopes of him offering to step down: "No hope and Bob Hope."

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