Mirror hacking probe names six reporters

Stories of Countess of Wessex and Ulrika Jonsson among those said to have been obtained illegally

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The Independent Online

A secret dossier on phone-hacking inside Trinity Mirror, prepared by worried investors in the struggling UK publisher, claims the practice was organised on a "systematic" scale inside the company's national titles. The scathing report, seen by The Independent on Sunday and begun while evidence was still being taken by the Leveson inquiry, says journalists on the Daily Mirror and People newspapers regularly accessed private mobile phone voicemails to obtain major stories.

The probe was started by shareholders in the Mirror Group who are concerned at the impact the phone-hacking scandal could have on the future finances of the company.

The dossier names six reporters from the Daily Mirror and People who, it claims, regularly used phone- hacking. After being notified that they featured in the private dossier, the journalists said that if any of them are charged, they plan to cite "common practice" as their defence.

For legal reasons, The IoS has decided not to name the journalists.

More than 20 per cent was wiped of Trinity Mirror's share price last week following the news that four high-profile celebrities had begun High Court legal action over breach of privacy and illegally accessing voicemails. They include the former England football manager Sven-Goran Eriksson. More claims are currently being prepared.

The new civil actions are being co-ordinated by Mr Justice Vos, the judge who has also heard the first and second waves of hacking claims lodged by victims of News International.

Former and current Mirror journalists are helping the lawyer Mark Lewis who is representing the claimants. Mr Lewis is the lawyer who helped reveal the full extent of phone hacking inside News International.

Investors commissioned the Mirror probe several months ago to evaluate the commercial risk attached to investing in the Mirror Group. They feared that the previous Mirror management, led by Sly Bailey when she was chief executive, had provided an incomplete picture of what took place over the past decade.

One source said: "We wanted to discover exactly what went on. The Mirror is in a precarious position and any big legal claims could hit it hard. Look at what happened at the News of the World once that can of worms was opened." Shares in Trinity fell again to 53p on Friday, valuing the newspaper group at £166m.

Former senior Mirror reporters are the sources for the new evidence. They say information about the Ulrika Jonsson and Sven Goran Eriksson affair was obtained by hacking and that competitors, especially the now defunct NOTW, accelerated the practice which was outlawed in 2000. One said : "Once the Mirror broke the story about Sven and Ulrika, News International knew how they'd done it but couldn't do it themselves, so they hired people who did."

Similar methods are alleged to have been used to obtain a story of Amanda Holden cheating on Les Dennis with Neil Morrissey. Piers Morgan was editor at the time. Morgan, now a star presenter at the CNN news channel in the United States, has denied any involvement in hacking.

The report claims that hacking was initially practised by show-business staff and claims senior executives knew of the practice. One senior Mirror executive, who had left his phone at home, reportedly turned to one of the journalists named in the report during an editorial conference and jokingly asked if he could pick up his mobile voicemail for him.

Ms Bailey denied all knowledge of phone hacking when she gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry. No investigation took place because there was no evidence of any wrong-doing, she claimed.

Yesterday it was reported that Scotland Yard had received a fifth allegation of phone-hacking. Murray Harkin, former business partner of the Countess of Wessex, claimed a 2001 Sunday Mirror article was obtained by phone-hacking.

The new chief executive of Trinity Mirror, Simon Fox, last week was forced to announce an internal inquiry into phone-hacking. He agreed to the investigation after pressure from some of the group's major City investors.

Although the cost of the scandal has yet to be fully calculated, News International is understood to have so far paid out more than £200m in compensation and legal fees.

Trinity Mirror said yesterday it had yet to receive any claims and repeated the assurance that "all our journalists work within the criminal law and the PCC code of conduct".