Exclusive: Was the Mirror Group hacking
phones before News of the World?

Newspaper group accused of paying £125-a-time for voicemail codes from private investigators

Scotland Yard are holding evidence that a senior Mirror Group executive regularly paid a private investigations firm up to £125 a time for mobile phone numbers and private pin access codes at least two years before phone hacking became a routine practice at the News of the World.

Invoices for the service that have been shown to The Independent, name the news executive but today the former Mirror employee – who cannot be identified for legal reasons - said he could not discuss the significance of evidence held by the Metropolitan  Police. He said: “All of this should be referred to Trinity Mirror.”

Shares in Trinity Mirror, publisher of the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and People, today plummeted by £20m after it was revealed that four high-profile individuals, including the former England football manager, Sven-Goran Eriksson,  had begun legal action claiming their phones were hacked by Mirror newspapers.

The claims filed at the High Court yesterday, which allege “breach of confidence and misuse of private information” relating to illegal mobile phone voicemail interceptions, is the first significant expansion of phone hacking in the UK beyond Rupert Murdoch’s News International titles.

The three other claimants are the Coronation street actress, Shobna Gulati, the former nanny of star footballer David Bekham, Abbie Gibson, and the former captain of Blackburn Rovers, Garry Flitcroft.

The regimes of three Trinity Mirror editors are implicated in the claims, including Piers Morgan who edited the Daily Mirror between 1995 and 2004 and was in charge of the title when it revealed the affair between Mr Eriksson and broadcaster Ulrika Jonsson in a story that is at the centre of the football manager’s complaint. Mr Morgan, now a star interviewer on the US news channel CNN, has repeatedly said he has no knowledge of phone hacking happening during his editorship.

Tonight the lawyer representing the new claimants, Mark Lewis, said that since the news broke of the allegations against the Mirror titles, others had contacted him. “They have raised issues that I will now have to look into,” he said. 

Trinity Mirror has consistently tried to distance itself from illegal practices that were adopted inside titles run by Rupert Murdoch’s UK print operation.  Today the company repeated assurances given to the Leveson Inquiry earlier this year by its former chief executive, Sly Bailey, stating that “all” its journalists worked  “within the criminal law and the Press Complaints Commission Code of Conduct.”

However a former Trinity Mirror journalist who today spoke to The Independent on condition of anonymity, repeated the allegations given to the Leveson Inquiry last year by the Mirror’s former business writer, James Hipwell, who claimed he had personally been shown “how to hack” by the paper’s showbusiness team.

The former journalist, building on Mr Hipwell’s account, said staff were bullied into hacking, that it was common knowledge and that voicemail interceptions took place from the 1990s to well into the 2000s.

The Independent was told “It started off as a cult activity by showbiz reporters. It was a plentiful source of cheap diary stories, but then it became proven that it broke big stories, and the news people started to use it and the showbiz people started to get promoted into news – and they would insist it was used. It became standard practice.”

Backing up Mr Hipwell’s Leveson testimony, the source said they had first-hand knowledge of its use, knew people who “were at it” and that it was done openly in Trinity Mirror titles. They added “It was done with authority. Political decisions [within the offices] were made that this was what people had to do – even if it was against their will.”

Alleging that senior Trinity Mirror management knew of the illegal practice, and were  involved in keeping it a secret, could, if proven, be financially damaging for the struggling publishing group.

Being part of the Murdoch-owned News Corp  has allowed News International to both mount a robust legal fight-back against phone hacking,  while at the same time bowing to the inevitable high-tariff damages that have arisen from scores of settled civil claims. That process is still on-going with NI’s final hacking bill now expected to soar past the £200 million mark.

Trinity Mirror are without such financial muscle.  Its share price has fallen 90 percent over the last five years, and at the close of last year was servicing debt of around £220 million.

Company insiders are now saying that Ms Bailey’s decision taken last year not to order an investigation along the lines of NI’s “management standards committee” (MSC) review, could now be reviewed. She explained her decision to Lord Justice Leveson saying that as there was no evidence Mirror Group journalists had hacked phone, there was no need to conduct an investigation.

In place of a detailed investigation, Paul Vickers, the company’s legal director, who is a former barrister, varied out a review of editorial controls and procedures. A company spokesman said Mr Vickers review “had no historical element to it, and simply examined existing practices.”

The spokesman said they would be making no comment on any evidence held by Scotland Yard, and as it had yet to receive any claims from Mark Lewis could add nothing more. 

Claimants: The alleged targets

Garry Flitcroft

The former Blackburn Rovers captain became the subject of tabloid interest in 2002 after claims of two extra-marital affairs. He obtained an injunction banning disclosure of his identity, subsequently overturned. Among papers which covered the story were The People and the Sunday Mirror.

Sven-Goran Eriksson

The revelation of an affair between the then England manager and television presenter Ulrika Jonsson was a defining exclusive of Piers Morgan’s editorship of the Daily Mirror. But Eriksson and Jonsson are known to have long wondered how their relationship came to light.

Shobna Gulati

The soap actor, who appeared in both Coronation Street and EastEnders, was the subject of articles in the Sunday Mirror between 2003 and 2005. She was granted core participant status in the Leveson Inquiry during its study of relations between police and newspapers.

Abbie Gibson

The former nanny to the Beckhams hit the headlines in 2005 when she began employment tribunal proceedings against them. The People ran a story wrongly alleging that David Beckham had left angry voicemails on Gibson’s phone. The paper later apologised for the story and paid damages.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent