Why Morgan's troubles are multiplying

There is no such thing as a deleted e-mail, as 'Mirror' editor Piers Morgan is discovering to his cost.
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The Independent Online

If Piers Morgan fails to survive as editor of The Mirror, it will certainly merit one footnote to newspaper history. He will be the first newspaper editor to be brought down by new technology - e-mail to be precise.

If Piers Morgan fails to survive as editor of The Mirror, it will certainly merit one footnote to newspaper history. He will be the first newspaper editor to be brought down by new technology - e-mail to be precise.

Morgan, who survived an internal investigation by Trinity Mirror into share-tipping abuses and the passing of the buck by the Press Complaints Commission (who told the Mirror Group to censure its editor) again faces an uncertain future. It was always likely to be the Department of Trade and Industry inquiry which would carry the most weight. And a series of leaks, probably, though not conclusively, from the DTI shows that they are gathering damning evidence.

At the weekend Sunday Business printed a number of e-mails uncovered by DTI inspectors. Morgan is an inveterate e-mailer and though he or the 'City Slicker' columnist to whom he had sent the e-mails deleted them, the DTI inspectors were able to recover hundreds of them from the Mirror computer server. There is a cautionary tale here for all journalists. Whether e-mails are about of affairs of the city or affairs of the heart, take care. There is no such thing as a deleted e-mail.

Two key e-mails were revealed at the weekend. One suggests that he held shares in a second company repeatedly tipped by the 'City Slickers' on his newspaper. The company was the hi-tech outfit NXT. The e-mail from Morgan to city slicker columnist Anil Bhoyrul says: "I need some ideas for my general Pep, which is bursting with profit from NXT. Got any good longer-term suggestions for this year?"

The inspectors will also want to ask Morgan about another e-mail written on the day he bought £20,000 worth of shares in computer company Viglen Technology. The company was tipped the next day by the City Slickers, but Morgan has said he was unaware the story would appear when he bought the shares.

The e-mail from Morgan to Bhoyrul, timed at 4.33pm on 17 January, reads: "I sold them [Pace shares] this morning for bloody Viglen. Congratulations halfwit."

DTI inspectors will see the word "bloody" as significant as it could suggest that Morgan and Bhoyrul discussed Viglen earlier in the day.

So should Morgan remain as editor of The Mirror? From a purely journalistic standpoint the answer is yes. He has improved his paper enormously. Even the decision to start the City Slickers column showed Morgan at his populist best, the first red-top editor to see that his readers would be interested in playing the stock market if news and tips were delivered to them not in city jargon, but in a simple, forthright and jokey manner.

Piers Morgan is actually producing a paper that the late Hugh Cudlipp would recognise, cheeky and provocative, but good-natured and robust. Morgan's Mirror lacks the political bite, probably the political consciousness, of the Cudlipp Mirror of the Fifties and Sixties. But he has moved it away from the pale imitation of The Sun that it became under his predecessors.

He has started a thoughtful and successful women's magazine, M, which saw off opposition from the Daily Mail, and made a number of heavyweight appointments including the Sunday Telegraph city reporter who exposed the City Slickers scandal. Perhaps he should now hire the assiduous Mark Watts, chief reporter of Sunday Business.

Ironically, it is Morgan's undoubted journalistic strength which has proved an ethical weakness. The gung-ho, laddish approach, a winning mixture of populism and fantasy (as in the double spread he dreamed up about his showbiz columnist Matthew Wright leaving because he was exhausted from too many parties with too many stars) is funny and inventive, and one forgives its effrontery when applied to the harmless area of showbiz, which is semi-make-believe anyway.

Such a cavalier approach was always sure to lead to tears in the far more serious and heavily regulated area of share-dealing. Perhaps that small fact was all too easily ignored in the humorous if slightly spivvish atmosphere of The Mirror editorial floor. It is still possible - just - to believe that Morgan's wrongdoings were in a spirit of Del Boy-like enthusiasm, rather than a coldly calculated attempt to profit from his readers' impact on the market.

But the latest e-mails indicate that he has not yet come clean on his involvement. He should do so quickly as the drip-drip effect of the leaks on the financial pages risk doing him, other senior figures in the Mirror Group management and the reputation of The Mirror itself irreparable damage.

Elsewhere this month's circulation figures show healthy increases for The Independent, Independent on Sunday, and, strikingly, The Scotsman, which recorded a 30 per cent increase in its year-on-year figures. Even after moving bringing its price back up to 30p after a lengthy cut to 20p, it seems to be retaining its new readers. Sunday Business, which doubled its price to £1 last February, continues to lose readers, 5.3 per cent down to 56,807 from 60,000 this time last year. Its editor, Jeff Randall, will want to see a turnaround before he leaves to join the BBC as business editor next March. His paper's circulation will, as he knows, be sure to feature in every profile that is written of him.