The former News of the World and Daily Mirror editor, Piers Morgan, was led to imply during questioning at the Leveson Inquiry yesterday that the source of a taped telephone conversation between Heather Mills and her then husband, Sir Paul McCartney, could have been the Beatle's former wife herself.
In a series of denials about who was the source of the telephone message story, Morgan insisted he would give nothing away that would compromise the identity of the person who gave him information for an article he wrote in the Daily Mail in 2006 about the troubled state of the McCartneys' marriage.
The revelation came as it emerged that Rupert Murdoch is to be invited to give evidence to the inquiry into press ethics.
Morgan was asked by Robert Jay QC, the lawyer for the inquiry, if he could recall the media mogul's reaction to a complaint against him while he was editing the NOTW in 1994.
When Morgan, a CNN presenter, replied he could not answer for his former proprietor, Mr Jay replied: "Well I can ask him for his impression when we get there." News International sources insisted that Mr Murdoch had not yet received any formal invitation to appear before the inquiry.
The unexpected question of Murdoch's attendance arose shortly after Morgan was quizzed about the article which revealed details of a message from Sir Paul to his former wife. It was described as "heartbreaking. The couple had clearly had a tiff, Heather had fled to India and Paul was pleading with her to come back. He sounded lonely and miserable ... and sang 'We can work it out' into the answer machine."
Although Morgan refused to accept that listening to the message was "unethical" it was suggested to him that authorisation for listening had to come from Heather Mills.
Appearing via a television link from Los Angeles, Morgan heard a robust intervention from Lord Leveson himself saying he was "perfectly happy" to call Mills and ask her if she had given permission to Morgan to listen to the taped message.
The CNN host then told the inquiry that, during the acrimonious divorce procedure of the celebrity couple, it had been suggested that Heather Mills had recorded telephone messages from her husband and played them to journalists.
Mr Jay repeatedly pressed Morgan about how much he knew, as an editor who had been in charge of two of Britain's largest tabloid titles, about the culture of phone hacking that has often been described as "widespread".
Morgan painted a picture of himself as a detached editor who left the running of his newspaper to other executives, who did not want to know the sources for major stories, and at one stage suggested that editors knew "only 5 per cent of what was going on."
He told the inquiry that, during his years of editing the Daily Mirror between 1995 and 2004, he did not believe that phone hacking was practised. Asked again and again about rumours in Fleet Street that the Mirror had been part of an endemic culture of so-called "dark arts", Morgan repeatedly denied he had "any reason for believe it was going on".
Questioned about the evidence the former NOTW editor and News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks had given to a parliamentary select committee in which she admitted to occasional payments to police officers, Morgan said that practice, which is illegal, had never happened when he was in charge of the Trinity Mirror paper.
Rather than accept a passive role and confine his testimony to answering questions, Morgan was often combative: he called The Guardian the self-appointed "bishops of Fleet Street" and said it had been involved in phone hacking.
The NOTW's use of private detectives, particularly Glenn Mulcaire, has also frequently come under the spotlight. Although Mr Morgan admitted private investigators had been used by the Mirror, he said he was "never directly involved" in their commissioning or what they brought in.
In autobiographical diaries and later interviews, Mr Morgan has dropped hints that he knew the techniques and pitfalls that arose out of phone hacking. However, during questioning he avoided adding to his own description of hacking as "this little trick".
He again repeatedly said the references were made 10 years ago and he could not remember.
Piers on... Sir Paul and Heather
Robert Jay QC "Have you listened to recordings of what you knew to be illegally obtained voicemail messages?"
Piers Morgan "I don't believe so, no."
Mr Jay asked about a recording of a voicemail message left by Sir Paul for Ms Mills when the couple were suffering problems with their marriage.
Piers Morgan "I can't discuss where I heard that tape or who made it."
Mr Jay "But it was a voicemail message wasn't it?"
Piers Morgan "I believe it was, yes."Reuse content