The former British newspaper editor Piers Morgan yesterday took steps to protect his high-profile job at CNN, and his six-figure salary, as he issued a statement to deny a series of accusations that he was implicated in the phone-hacking scandal.
Morgan, a former editor of the News of the World and a friend and former colleague of Andy Coulson, refuted claims that his previous comments on the matter were evidence of culpability. James Hipwell, who worked on the Daily Mirror when Morgan was editing that paper, has told The Independent that hacking was "endemic" and that it was "inconceivable" that the editor did not know about it.
The accusations and insinuations have gathered pace. The blog Huffpost UK published a transcript of Morgan's appearance on the BBC Radio 4 show Desert Island Discs in 2009, when he discussed tabloid practices. He told Kirsty Young: "A lot of it was done by third parties. That's not to defend it, because obviously you were running the results of their work. I'm quite happy to have to sit here defending all these things I used to get up to. I simply say the net of people doing it was very wide and certainly encompassed the high and low end of the newspaper market."
The political blogger Guido Fawkes quoted a 2006 article Morgan wrote in the Daily Mail, in which he referred to a phone message left by Sir Paul McCartney for Heather Mills. "I was played a tape of a message Paul had left for Heather on her mobile phone. It was heart-breaking.
"The couple had clearly had a tiff, Heather had fled to India and Paul was pleading with her to come back." Fawkes, real name Paul Staines, asked: "How can Piers say he never authorised phone hacking when he admits to listening to recordings of the voicemail of a distressed old man and his soon-to-be ex-wife?"
The Guardian republished a piece from GQ magazine in 2007, when Morgan told Naomi Campbell that hacking was "a very widespread practice". He said: "It was pretty well known that it if you didn't change your pin code when you were a celebrity who bought a new phone, then reporters could ring your mobile, tap in a standard factory setting number and hear your messages."
Morgan yesterday rubbished the claims. "I have never hacked a phone, told anyone to hack a phone, nor to my knowledge published any story obtained from the hacking of a phone," his statement said. Of Desert Island Discs, he said: "Millions of people heard these comments when I first made them in 2009, and none deduced that I was admitting to or condoning illegal activity." Morgan used his Twitter account to label his detractors as liars, druggie ex-bankrupts and con men.
Morgan's tweets yesterday
* "I don't mind being wrongly smeared with all this #Hackgate stuff, I'd just rather it wasn't done by liars, druggie ex-bankrupts and conmen."
* "For those who don't know who @GuidoFawkes is, here's his biog: http://t.co/3TJEX4k Not exactly Woodward/Bernstein is it?"
* "And as for 'Professor' @GreensladeR in today's Guardian, he admitted faking Spot The Ball for Robert Maxwell so no Mirror reader could win."
* "I'll be making no further comment on #Hackgate. But important for everyone to know who these lying smearers are."