The Piers Morgan version: 'I shouldn't have been buying shares at all as editor of the paper'

He should have been in the dock with the Slickers, say his critics. Here he offers Sholto Byrnes his last word on the matter

The shares scandal that broke at the Daily Mirror nearly six years ago reached its conclusion this month, when the authors of the paper's City Slickers column, James Hipwell and Anil Bhoyrul, and a day trader, Terry Shepherd, were found guilty of "conspiring to profit by creating a misleading impression as to the value of a company".

Hipwell and Bhoyrul had bought shares in Viglen Technology, an electronics firm owned by Sir Alan Sugar, the day before they tipped the firm in their column. They were charged under the Financial Services Act and prosecuted by the Department of Trade and Industry.

But for some, the case raised more questions than it answered about the conduct of the Mirror's then editor, Piers Morgan. He had also bought shares in Viglen on the same day, 18 January 2000 - some £67,000 worth, instead of the £20,000 reported before - but has always denied any knowledge of the Slickers' tip. He was cleared of wrongdoing by the DTI and a Trinity Mirror internal investigation, although he was censured by the Press Complaints Commission.

But at the trial, Hipwell accused his former boss of having known all about the tip, of encouraging him to trade in shares while writing about them, and even of being involved in the writing of the Viglen story. Viglen's former PR boss, Nick Hewer, also accused Morgan of asking him to "concoct a helpful version of events". Other accusations were made against the Mirror lawyer, Martin Cruddace, and Morgan's then deputy, Tina Weaver, that they had tried to interfere with the Mirror internal inquiry.

After the testimony in court, some questioned why Morgan was not on the stand, and others queried his suitability to be the owner of the media's own trade magazine, Press Gazette. In an exclusive interview, Morgan puts his side of the story in what he says will be the final time he talks about the shares scandal.

In the recent trial, James Hipwell accused of you lying and much else. You say this is unfair. Why?

The way the trial was conducted was wrong and unfair because none of the people Hipwell pissed on were able to go and give evidence. He was tearing into Martin Cruddace, Tina Weaver and me, so we got all the adverse headlines. Which I thought was a little unfair, given that he's now been proven to be an absolute liar. We had the Nick Hewers and people like that doing the same thing, making allegations which were not new to anybody at all.

You say there was no new evidence?

Nothing came out that had not been put to me in interviews with the DTI and Trinity Mirror. There were certain things that had not come out as far as the public and the media were aware, and it was portrayed as dynamite new evidence that was going to lead to me being caged. But it wasn't. Nothing new came out at all.

One instance of what appeared to be new evidence was Nick Hewer saying you told him to lie about the timing of a phone call between him and Anil Bhoyrul.

Absolutely cock and bull rubbish. I never asked Nick Hewer to lie.

The head of the Trinity Mirror internal investigation said during the trial that he would not have cleared you if you had asked Hewer to lie for him.

They would have found differently, of course they would. Nick Hewer made that claim very early on. It was put to me in my interviews with the DTI, and I contest what he says vigorously. I think they were panicking at Viglen Technology, because they had acted inappropriately with the marketplace and were under a lot of heat about when they had spoken to the City Slickers. I would love to have stood up in court and said, "Actually, that is not true."

You say that if you had been called as a witness by either prosecution or defence you would have been happy to have come forward. Yet you admit you declined to appear when Terry Shepherd's lawyers asked you to. Isn't there a contradiction there?

Well, I suppose... But I didn't know him at all. I didn't want to go into some court case on behalf of a bloke I'd never heard of. I didn't think it was appropriate.

So you were referring solely to the cases of the Slickers?

Of course I was. But I knew what would happen the moment I was called. I would have a barrel load of shit from Hipwell and Hewer and the others, and it would all be taken as gospel by the bloodthirsty hacks who would make sure I was buried on a daily basis for the six weeks of the trial. I don't think that's fair, personally. I'm not going to sue anybody and I'm not going to complain. I'm just going to use this opportunity to express my thoughts on the matter, which are: after this, I will not talk about shares again. But I'm fucked if I'm going to read all this shit about myself from a lying toerag who's gone down, when I'm sitting here after an investigation having been exonerated.

But the DTI hasn't officially closed the file on your case.

The DTI wrote to me three weeks after I was fired from the Mirror. They had absolutely no reason, politically or otherwise, to clear me if there wasn't good reason to clear me. I think with all these things they reserve the right to reopen the file if new evidence comes to light. If someone wants to come forward with hard new evidence that I'm lying, great, give it to the DTI. But there isn't any, because I wasn't. Much as it suits people to think Nick Hewer has come up with this big smoking gun, he hasn't. The DTI read me this stuff four years ago, and I told them it was untrue.

Hipwell claimed that far from being ignorant of the tip, you rewrote their column from their desk.

I realise certain journalists will go to their graves and never believe me. The same journalists are desperate for it to be true that I went over, read what they were doing, and said, "I know what I'll do. I'll buy £67,000 worth of shares", because that's never going to come out, is it? I'm going to read their story loudly and tell them to set a price so I can make a killing, in front of all my staff. Does that seem likely? Perhaps it does. Perhaps I have misread it.

You say your buying shares in Viglen the day before the Slickers tipped them was "an appalling coincidence". Why did you buy shares in Viglen?

The Slickers had made them one of their tips of the year. Their price had already risen by 33 per cent in the previous two weeks. It was the internet boom and everyone was into them. It wasn't some secret little company that I'd picked up on. And what people need to remember was that Viglen had been taking out advertisements in national newspapers for three or four weeks announcing this expansion into the internet. It was a classic Slickers story; it was old. People forget all this.

Advertisements?

They weren't full-page, but there were adverts in December '99, flagging Viglen's intention to go into the internet world. The DTI were able to find them.

With hindsight, what would you have done differently?

I wouldn't have bought shares at all. I shouldn't have been buying shares as editor of the paper, it was bloody mad. I had too much money in disposable cash, and I was pissing about in something I didn't really understand.

How did you feel when news of the Slickers' shareholdings came out?

Shocked. At Hipwell in particular. He'd been lawlessly buying shares the day before he tipped them and selling them the next day at a profit. Anil was never that bad an offender. Actually, I tried to save him from losing his job. But I think for legal reasons the company couldn't divorce them and decided both had to go. I felt awful about it. I considered resigning myself. Maybe I should have done, just for the failure of leadership.

Hadn't you always known that the Slickers were chancers?

Everybody now says they knew the Slickers were crooks. I don't think that's true. They were a couple of chancers having a laugh with the stock market, and for two years there was no harm done to anyone. But this allegation of casino morality is absolutely right. It was a bit mad. There should have been a system in place to stop it and there wasn't. There was a failure right down the managerial line-up and we all accepted that.

Who oversaw their column?

Well, no executive did really.

Did the Slickers go into the morning editorial conference?

Most of the time they were too hungover. Ninety-eight per cent of the time it would be just Anil, and he would be there to make up the numbers. Most of the time he didn't say anything.

Were they present at conference on the day that you bought the Viglen shares?

I very much doubt it.

Did you discuss the next day's column with the Slickers at all?

I'm not going to relive the DTI interview. I've been examined in forensic detail endlessly over this. Was there ever any evidence that I knew they were going to tip Viglen the next day? No. I saw their column when I got the first edition at home at about 11.30pm.

Were you given too free a rein as Mirror editor? Did you have an adequate management structure to oversee you?

In relation to the share-dealing scandal, I probably did have too free a rein, and could have done with somebody tapping me on the shoulder and saying, "Be careful. You need to watch how you're conducting yourself better than this." My advice to editors is: be very careful about potential conflicts, because they're everywhere.

Doesn't the resurrection of this story undermine the moral authority of Press Gazette, given that you are one of its owners?

If I printed every story about all the coke-snorting bishops of Fleet Street that I've come across, there wouldn't be enough newsprint in South America. I fully accept that I'm a morally defunct human being. What a load of cobblers.

How do you feel about this episode always being linked with your name?

As it's Christmas, if any Independent on Sunday readers want any tips I'll be happy to pass some on. Look, I was cleared by Trinity Mirror; I was not prosecuted by the DTI. The two Slickers were prosecuted and they were convicted. My time of taking this seriously has officially ended.

MEDIA DIARY

Title tattle

*** Should you be visiting Johnny Boden's website, the spiritual and sartorial home of dishy Dave Cameron and his like, be prepared to be grilled about your social suitability to wear the company's upmarket mail-order garb. Most sites ask for a buyer's title, offering the options "Mr", "Mrs", "Miss" and "Ms", but Boden's site, being for the cut-glass brigade, is rather more selective. It offers fully 51 titles, including "Lt-Gen Sir", "Col Sir", "Msgr" and, simply, "The Baroness". Well, you wouldn't want just anyone buying Boden stuff, would you?

Cooked his Gosling?

Andy Kershaw's call, made on the Today programme on Thursday morning, to reinstate Ray Gosling to the airwaves has already caused a groundswell of support. "I've had a stack of emails about it and they just keep coming," says Kershaw.

It's not that Gosling has stopped trying. A producer in Manchester still submits half-a-dozen ideas for programmes with Gosling every year, with little success. Gosling himself is touched by the support. "Of course I would go back to the BBC if I was asked. But today it's all news. The softer documentaries have lost their place. With the news, now it's almost as if you want to view the world as disaster after disaster. I tried to do things that were positive, proclaiming the poetry of life."

The enemy within

An interesting figure was to be found towards the back of the room last Thursday when Sir Christopher Meyer was attacked by MPs for publishing his memoirs. The Press Complaints Commission chairman's uncomfortable morning was watched closely by Guy Black, a former PCC director and sidekick of Telegraph chief executive Murdoch MacLennan. Given Black's close interest in Telegraph editorial matters, was it a coincidence that the paper's account of the event was (unlike most other reports) highly critical of Sir Christopher?

Oiling the way

Could it be that Adam Helliker is trying to court his way back into the fold at The Mail on Sunday? One would have thought that after being ignominiously sacked over the sale of Princess Diana's phonebook, the veteran diarist would steer clear. But Helliker happily turned up to the MoS features Christmas party to break bread with his old colleagues. As well as Joan Collins, Esther Rantzen and Carole Caplin, there was Peter Wright, the MoS editor who sent Helliker packing 18 months ago.

"Peter Wright came up to me and shook my hand," says Helliker. "I called him a monster. But he seemed eager to patch things up. In the spirit of Christmas, I thought it would be rude not to, seeing as it was his party."

No question about it

Congratulations to the team from The Daily Telegraph who won the NUJ Christmas pub quiz in a nail-biting final in Davy's wine bar at Canary Wharf on Thursday. Unfortunately, the winning team had five members, one more than the specified number. But, showing seasonal generosity of spirit, competitors felt so sorry for the hacks from the Telegraph, which lost 90 staff in cutbacks this year, that they allowed them this one small victory. To elicit sympathy, the winners had named their team Laurie Sears' P45s. Ho ho ho.

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