Phone hacking at the Daily Mirror was a "bog-standard journalistic tool" used "every day" which was joked and laughed about by showbiz reporters and "entirely accepted by senior editors", the Leveson Inquiry heard yesterday.
A former Daily Mirror financial reporter, James Hipwell, told the inquiry how he saw reporters "a few feet away" from his desk access voicemail messages and discuss how deleting them would stop rival journalists on The Sun from getting the same stories they had just heard. The inquiry also heard that during a disciplinary process involving Mr Hipwell, some colleagues had offered to hack into the phone of the then editor, Piers Morgan, to see if he was saying anything that might help his cause.
Mr Hipwell, who was jailed in 2006 for his part in a share-tipping scandal, worked for the "City Slickers" column at the paper under Mr Morgan's editorship. Mr Hipwell provided a strikingly different account of the regime to the inquiry than the one described by Mr Morgan in his testimony from Los Angeles on Tuesday. In contrast to Mr Morgan's portrait of himself as a "hands-off" executive who left the running of the papers to his senior editors and who knew nothing of hacking, Mr Hipwell described him as "a strong-minded" leader who was the "beating heart of the newspaper".
He said: "Nothing really happened on that desk [the showbiz desk] without Piers knowing about it."
This statement was a world away from Mr Morgan's own description about newspaper editors not knowing 95 per cent of what went on underneath them. Mr Morgan was put under further pressure last night when Heather Mills, the former wife of Sir Paul McCartney, rejected the suggestion that she may have allowed him to hear a private voicemail from her ex-husband.
Accusing Mr Morgan of using her as a "scapegoat", Ms Mills said in a statement: "For the avoidance of doubt, I can categorically state that I have never ever played Piers Morgan a tape of any kind, never mind a voicemail from my ex-husband." She added that she would be more than happy to answer questions in front of Lord Leveson if necessary. The intervention atrracted the attention of Mr Morgan's employer, the US network CNN, which said last night it was "seeking a response to the Mills statement from Morgan".
Earlier in the inquiry, Lord Leveson was told by Sly Bailey, the chief executive of Trinity Mirror, that illegal practices like phone hacking had never taken place at the group's newspapers.
Mr Hipwell said there was never a reference to the PCC's code of conduct in his time at the paper and he received no ethical guidance. He said a "great number of stories" in the Mirror came from information gleaned through phone hacking. He added that he did not know if news reporters were involved in hacking in the same way as showbiz counterparts. It was "very unlikely" that Mr Morgan did not know Mirror journalists were involved in the practice, he said, telling the inquiry the editor "stamped his authority on every single page." He added: "The paper was built around the cult of Piers. He was extremely hands on."
Mr Hipwell was accused of being "an acknowledged liar" by Desmond Browne QC, lawyer for the Mirror newspapers. He told Lord Leveson his clients had not been able to properly challenge the allegations made by Mr Hipwell.
Morgan vs Hipwell: Their testimonies compared
James Hipwell on the extent of phone hacking at the Mirror:
"I would go as far as to say it happened every day. It became apparent that a great number of stories... would come from [hacking]"
Piers Morgan on not phone hacking at the Mirror:
"I have never hacked a phone, told anyone to hack a phone, nor to my knowledge published any story from the hacking of a phone."
James Hipwell on Piers Morgan's editing style:
"He was a very hands-on editor; he would be out on the news floor, he was the beating heart of the newspaper."
Piers Morgan on not knowing what his reporters are up to:
"I would say the average editor is aware of about 5 per cent of what his journalists are up to at any given time."
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