Stephen Glover: Can Piers charm his way out of this one?
Monday 08 August 2011
Piers Morgan, former editor of the Daily Mirror, can't believe his bad luck.
He had put all his tribulations behind him, not least the controversy over his share dealings at the Mirror, and landed a multimillion-pound job as an interviewer for CNN, while marrying a beautiful young woman. Though Americans have not yet taken to him, he must have believed his charm would win through, as it usually does.
Alas, the fairytale is threatened by the phone-hacking scandal, which sweeps on like a lava tide and, having half-demolished the Murdoch empire, is heading in the direction of the hapless Mr Morgan. I had thought the outcry against the Mirror would be less than against the News of the World, partly because there is no hated Murdoch-like proprietor behind it, and partly because the Labour Party has no interest in undermining its main cheerleader. But the hacking scandal has acquired an unstoppable momentum of its own.
What's the case against Mr Morgan, editor of the Mirror from 1995 until 2004, when he was forced to resign after his paper published bogus pictures of British soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners? There are only scraps, though they are mounting up. One mystery he has yet to explain is how his paper knew what Sven Goran Eriksson told his then lover Ulrika Jonsson on the telephone in April 2002. Another is the revelation in February 2004 that the actress Keira Knightley had left a message on the phone of Mikey Green, a pop star.
Last week Heather Mills, a former wife of Sir Paul McCartney, alleged that in 2001 an unnamed journalist at Mirror Group Newspapers quoted "verbatim" voicemails left on her phone. Mr Morgan, who has consistently denied any involvement in phone hacking, responded by pointing out that a High Court judge had once described her as an unreliable witness. But he has to explain his claim in a Daily Mail article in 2006 that he had listened to a tape of a "heart-breaking" message left by Sir Paul for Ms Mills on her mobile, and he may be alarmed to learn that Sir Paul is taking an interest in the affair.
Where will this end? The BBC in particular has the bit between its teeth, though its story last Friday that the Mirror used one private investigator 230 times between 1997 and 1999 provides no proof of phone hacking or illegal activity. (Incidentally, the BBC continues to assert it never employed the jailed private investigator Jonathan Rees, though he and his solicitor claim it has.) Mr Morgan has some explaining to do, and I shan't mourn too much if he is eventually led away. But the Mirror is far more fragile than the News of the World – its circulation is less than half what it was when Mr Morgan became editor – and I certainly wouldn't enjoy the spectacle of it being beaten to death.
Murdoch's high road to Holyrood
During this May's Holyrood elections, the triumphant Scottish Nationalists had an unlikely champion in The Scottish Sun, the highest-selling newspaper north of the border. It was unlikely because the paper's London parent is strongly unionist, and The Scottish Sun itself had derided the Scot Nats during the 2007 election.
Now information released by the office of Alex Salmond establishes how passionately Scotland's First Minister wooed Rupert Murdoch, sending him a series of admiring letters, offering him free theatre tickets, and even referring to him as "Sir Rupert". Mr Salmond has had 25 meetings with Murdoch executives since 2007, and has met or spoken with Mr Murdoch four times since becoming First Minister.
Why were Mr Murdoch and his executives so happy to be courted by Mr Salmond? It is true that BSkyB, in which Mr Murdoch has a 39 per cent stake, is one of the biggest employers in Scotland. On the other hand, Mr Salmond is only the leader of a devolved administration, and there are a limited number of favours that he can do for the media tycoon.
One plausible theory is that Mr Murdoch, who is of Scottish stock, is more sympathetic to the idea of Scottish independence than one might suppose. For all his belief in the "Anglosphere", and his suspicions of Continental Europe, I suspect he harbours some atavistic anti-English feelings which the wily Mr Salmond has cleverly harnessed to his cause.
Why I'm retracting my retraction
I may have overdone my apologies last week in retracting my suggestion James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks attended George Osborne's 40th birthday party at Dorneywood on 18 June. The Chancellor's office had issued a list of meetings over the past year which made no mention of Mr Murdoch or Mrs Brooks being at his party, and his officials later confirmed neither had been present.
What they did not say, I now discover, is that Mrs Brooks had been asked, but was unable to go. Her husband Charlie Brooks did, however, turn up. I do not imply any impropriety, but the invitation argues a closeness which Mr Osborne's advisers have been keen to disavow, and which was the point I was trying to make a couple of weeks ago. So on the whole I think I am minded to withdraw my apology of last week.
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