'A Pretty Despicable Man'
I’M PADDY FRENCH and I’ve been an investigative journalist for most of my working life.
For several years I’ve been researching Piers Morgan’s role in the phone hacking scandal — you can read the latest article “Dial M For Morgan” on the Byline site.
Some of this research was backed by the Channel 4 Dispatches series before editors decided against a programme.
Now I’d like to raise at least £5,000 to research, write and publish a book about the former News of the World and Daily Mirror editor.
The title is based on a comment made by Piers Morgan himself.
Morgan is one of the most important members of the cast of the phone hacking scandal. He was the first of a long line of Murdoch editors forged in the crucible of the Sun’s show business column “Bizarre". One of his proteges was Andy Coulson.
Morgan was singled out by Sun editor Kelvin Mackenzie as a future editor and it was his patronage that led to his appointment as News of the World editor at the age of 29. There Morgan singled out a young reporter and promoted her to Features Editor: her name was Rebekah Brooks. Morgan was destined to edit the Sun but when Daily Mirror boss David Montgomery — a former News of the World editor — offered him the editorship of the Mirror, Morgan accepted.
By 2003, the troika of Morgan (Mirror), Coulson (News of the World) and Brooks (The Sun) had an iron grip on Britain’s tabloids. Morgan was at the Mirror for nearly ten years — a decade that saw the paper embrace the “dark arts” of illegal news-gathering.
The plan is to produce a readable, balanced picture of a talented but flawed individual.
I’m a retired television producer so I don’t need to be paid for my time.
But researching, writing and publishing a book as ambitious as this one does not come cheap, especially since it needs to be read for libel.
I hope you will support the venture.
A PRETTY DESPICABLE MAN
The Story Of Piers Steffan Pughe Morgan
The background to Morgan's remark — "... you don't get to be editor of the Mirror without being a fairly despicable human being" — was made in relation to the hacking of Kate Winslett's phone back in 2000. Morgan has always claimed he knew nothing about phone hacking: in fact he imported the "dark arts" of illegal news-gathering from the News of the World to the Daily Mirror and used them on an industrial scale...
A FRACTURED CHILDHOOD
For a man who spends much of his time delving into other people's pasts, Morgan is remarkably reticent about his own. It's well-known he was abruptly taken out of his private boarding school and placed in the local comprehensive. But what what was the financial disaster that led to his stepfather taking this drastic step? The experience scarred the youngster — he was nicknamed "Piss Puke Moron" at his new school — but it forged a classless and ruthless character ...
A SPELL AT LLOYDS
Morgan went to work at Lloyds of London straight after he left school. Virtually nothing is known about his experiences there — or why he left. Given the "insider dealing" scandal that nearly lost him his Mirror job in 2000, are there clues to be found in his time in the City?
Journalism runs through Morgan's family. Birth father Vincent was an Irish journalist before switching to dentistry and his mother was the daughter of a respected Sunday People investigative reporter. After leaving Lloyds, Morgan enrolled on the one year Harlow College journalism course. He then went to work for the Surrey and Southern London Newspaper Group where he split opinion ... This chapter examines his suburban apprenticeship ...
THE BiZARRE YEARS
The Sun's celebrity column, launched in 1982, became the cradle of some of Rupert Murdoch's most successful top red top journalists including Gary Bushell and John Blake. After doing shifts at the Sun, Morgan was given a staff job on the column by Kelvin Mackenzie in 1988. Mackenzie told the 23-year-old newcomer to get alongside the famous — and have his picture taken with them. It was here that Morgan met the man who was to become one of his best friends: Andy Coulson. This book, for the first time, examines Morgan's six BiZARRE years (1988-1994) — and why his work came to the notice of Rupert Murdoch...
THE TURN OF THE SCREWS
Morgan was tipped for stardom long before he was appointed News of the World editor in 2004. Mackenzie wanted him as his deputy editor at the Sun ... but Morgan turned him down — BiZARRE was a more potent platform than the powerful but less high profile executive position. The story of his dramatic meeting with Murdoch in Florida and the offer of the Screws is well-known. Less well known: his flirtation with the "dark arts" of illegal news-gathering. At the paper, Morgan also gave a young features writer her first promotion: Rebekah Wade, later Brooks ...
This chapter tells the inside story of one of Morgan's most famous scoops — the sensational story of Scotland Yard's investigation into Princess Di's anonymous phone calls. The untold story-behind-the story is even more amazing — Morgan allegedly paid an enormous sum of money to a serving police officer for access to a secret file. This chapter investigates allegations that the senior police officer retired just before reading the contents of the file to a News of the World reporter — and then used the proceeds to buy an expensive house in Sussex. Morgan was on his way to becoming a "dark arts" master.
Morgan had been at the Screws for less than two years when he was poached to take the editor's chair at the Mirror — by another former News of the World editor: David Montgomery. Murdoch was furious that his protégé had defected to the Mirror — but Morgan was clear: he wanted the editorship of a major daily and wasn't prepared to wait for the Sun to become available. The Mirror was beginning to recover from the disastrous stewardship of Robert Maxwell and Morgan's mission was clear: compete with the Sun. He did so, partly, by relying on the same "dark arts" he'd learnt at the News of the World. Trinity Mirror management turned a blind eye ...
ASSAULT ON THE BANK OF ENGLAND
Morgan's key "dark arts" lieutenant was Gary Jones (today executive editor of the Sunday Mirror). Jones had been the News of the World crime reporter who brought the Princess Di "anonymous calls" report and he followed Morgan to the Mirror. One of his revealing stories at the Mirror was an exclusive report on the mortgage arrangements of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England. He was able to do this because of his links with a firm of private eyes called Southern Investigations: they blagged the details of every member. This was unlawful ... Jones had an arrangement where the details of the operation were kept from the Mirror's account department.
Southern Investigations had a troubled past. In 1987 one of the partners, Daniel Morgan, was murdered amid rumours he'd been peddling an explosive story about police corruption to national newspapers, including the News of the World. The other partner, Jonathan Rees, became one of the suspects (his trial for murder collapsed in 2011) while the murdered man was replaced by a recently retired Scotland Yard detective who'd been on the murder squad. By 1999 anti-corruption detectives were bugging the agency's offices: on one occasion, when Jones was being hounded by the paper's accounts department for more details about invoices, one of the agency's detectives raged: "what we're doing is illegal, isn't it? You know I don't want people coming in and nicking us for criminal offences."
THE COCAINE CONSPIRACY
Events came to a dramatic climax in 1999. The bugging operation had to be cut short when the eavesdroppers heard a jaw-dropping plot begin to unfold. A client battling his estranged wife for custody of their child came to see Rees who suggested planting cocaine in her car. A corrupt detective would tip off the police and the mother would be arrested. Caught red-handed, she was bound to get a gaol sentence. The client would then be awarded sole custody of the child. For this audacious plot, Rees and the client would get 7 years in prison, the corrupt detective 5. But the Met also tried to put a stop to the lucrative traffic in confidential police information between corrupt officers and journalists. They arrested Mirror group journalist Doug Kempster and a serving police officer. This event — which has never been fully explored before — sent shock waves throughout the Mirror group but the CPS decided there wasn't enough evidence to bring a successful prosecution. Piers Morgan and senior management had been given a clear warning. As events were to prove, they ignored it ...
By 2000 Morgan was a seasoned newspaper editor: four years on the Mirror had followed his two years on the News of the World. Now, one of his protégés Rebekah Wade (later Brooks) held the chair at the News of the World, bringing Andy Coulson from BiZARRE to be her number 2. This chapter tells how Morgan had been a powerful force in their rise to power. The three became fast friends and their influence reached a high-water mark in 2003 with Wade editor of the Sun and Coulson of the News of the World. Morgan said of the troika in 2004: "we were lovely children, honestly ..." Wade and Coulson were already lovers ... with speculation that Morgan and Wade had also been an item. It was well-known that Morgan's marriage to Marion Shalloe, a nurse, was on the rocks despite their three children. Morgan's name was linked with many women including Paul Gascoigne's wife and journalist Marina Hyde. Hyde happened to work at the Sun and when emails between her and Morgan were discovered, she was sacked ... Morgan's marriage finally came to an end in 2008 and two years later he married Telegraph columnist Celia Walden.
Within months of the dramatic events at Southern Investigations and the scare caused by the arrest of Doug Kempster in 2000, Morgan was caught up in a scandal of his own making. He'd bought shares in a company about to be tipped in the Mirror's "City Slickers" column. The inside story of this incident has never been told: how Trinity Mirror covered up for Morgan and lied to the Press Complaints Council. This led to to a Press Complaints Council ruling which, although highly critical, was not damning enough for the management to ask for his resignation. But mysteries remain: why did a Department of Trade & Industry investigation take years before deciding that Morgan would not be prosecuted? And, years later, why did Lord Leveson prefer the evidence of one of the City Slickers, despite having gone to prison over the issue, to Morgan's?
The Mirror was the traditional Labour paper — but not of New Labour. Even though Alastair Campbell was a former Mirror man, he and Blair were after the support of Sun king Rupert Murdoch. Throughout his time at the Mirror, Morgan was fighting a rear-guard action in his relationship with No 10. By the time of the Iraq crisis, Morgan decided to take the Mirror into anti-war stance. It was to be the decision that sealed his fate ...
The Mirror hastily dropped its relationship with Southern Investigations once Rees was gaoled. But that wasn't a problem — the paper already had another string to its "dark arts" bow: private eye Steve Whittamore. It was later revealed that in the years before his arrest Whittamore had been paid more than £90,000 by the Mirror. There were nearly 1,000 requests — the majority of them illegal — for information on people's criminal records, vehicle registrations and phone records. Nearly 50 separate Mirror journalists were named in his logbooks. One of them was young reporter Tom Newton Dunn who is, today, political editor of the Sun. Days before Whittamore's arrest Piers Morgan had contemptuously swept aside questions from the Culture Media & Sports Committee concerned about privacy. Morgan did not tell one of the committee members Adrian Flook, that Tom Newton Dunn had ordered a criminal record check on him on behalf of the Mirror. After years of blunt denials, Trinity Mirror have recently begun to accept that phone-hacking was widespread within its titles ...
ATTACK OF CONSCIENCE
The "twin towers' attack of 2001 apparently had a profound on Morgan — he suddenly realised the Mirror should be a more serious paper. He toughened up his news coverage, re-hired former Mirror star John Pilger and when the Iraq crisis emerged, he was the only tabloid editor to oppose the war. However, his continued opposition to the war after it had started was unpopular with readers. Some began to abandon the paper. Morgan had made other gaffes — like the strident anti-German headlines as well as ill-advised feuds with Ian Hislop and Sun rival David Yelland — but this is the one where he began to lose the support of senior management. The last straw wasn't long in coming ...
Even today Morgan assumes a position that he doesn't know if the pictures that ended his career in May 2004 were fake or not. But for his bosses enough was enough: he'd become too controversial even for them and, more to the point, sales were falling. This chapter is the most rigorous investigation of the incident that sealed Morgan's fate as a newspaper editor.
A NEW CAREER
Even before he lost the editor's chair at the Mirror, Morgan had been dabbling in television. He'd presented a successful BBC series called, appropriately enough, The Importance of Being Famous and went on to co-present a Channel 4 political programme. His memoirs, The Insider, were successful and his friendship with Simon Cowell saw him become one of the judges on America's Got Talent. In 2009 he began the series that's still runnning — Piers Morgan's Life Stories. Morgan was to find light entertainment an easy and congenial career.
The phone hacking scandal made its first dramatic appearance in 2007. News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman was gaoled for hacking into royal phones — and Andy Coulson took the rap, resigned as editor and went to work for David Cameron. Piers Morgan claims he knew nothing about phone hacking. But the evidence is stacked against him — much of it coming from his own conversations and writings. As early as 1999 Steven Nott, a Welsh travelling salesman, went to the paper and explained how easy it was to use the factory settings of mobile phones to listen to people's messages. What has never been made clear is that the Mirror already knew all about it.
TONIGHT WITH PIERS MORGAN
Morgan had become a major US TV celebrity on the back of the success of America's Got Talent and his winning of the 2008 US version of The Apprentice. But in 2010 CNN took a massive gamble in replacing the celebrated Larry King with Morgan. The station was banking on his celebrity-packed contacts book combined with his journalistic experience to give Piers Morgan Tonight the required current affairs gravitas. Morgan's strategy, as it had been when the Mirror went serious, was to hit on a single subject. At the Mirror, the big issue had been Iraq, in New York it was gun control. Again Morgan misjudged his audience — failing to understand the depth of feeling many Americans have about the constitutional right to bear arms ...
There is about Piers Morgan an unbearable thinness of being. He's obviously an able and confident man well able to handle himself in the shallow world of celebrity journalism and television. The record also shows, though, that he was a master of the "dark arts". But his lack of a decent education was to prove his undoing with heavyweight subjects. Morgan's woeful ignorance of the United States — he once called the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, M I T for short, "mit" university — and his strident anti-gun rhetoric became as much of a turn-off for many American viewers as his anti-Iraq stance had been for some Mirror readers. The more serious the issue, it seems, the less Piers Morgan can hack it ...