PIERS MORGAN: DOWN IN THE GUTTER
ON MAY 21 Mr Justice Mann delivered a damning verdict on the Mirror group.
He found that its newspapers — the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and the People — had engaged in phone hacking and other illegal news-gathering on a massive scale.
In a test case at the High Court, he ordered the company to pay £1.2 million in damages to just eight victims.
Six of these — including the footballer Paul Gascoigne, BBC executive Alan Yentob and the actress Sadie Frost — were also hacked by reporters working for Piers Morgan during his 1995-2004 tenure as Daily Mirror editor.
Many more cases are in the pipeline.
Morgan himself has been interviewed under caution by detectives as part of Operation Golding, the Scotland Yard inquiry into phone hacking at the group.
In this article, I examine a revealing tale of Daily Mirror intrusion into the private life of television newsreader Kirsty Young.
IN 2009 Piers Morgan was put on the spot about his knowledge of the "dark arts" — including phone hacking — at the Mirror.
He was a guest on the BBC Desert Island Discs programme in June that year.
Presenter Kirsty Young asked him:
"And what about this nice middle-class boy who would have to be dealing with, I mean, essentially people who rake through people's bins for a living?
KIRSTY YOUNG & NICK JONES
THE DESERT ISLAND DISCS presenter was the target of a Daily Mirror surveillance operation when she started a relationship with the businessman Nick Jones. The couple later married. Did the paper discover the affair by hacking into Kirsty Young's mobile phone?
"People who tap people's phones, people who take secret photographs... who do all that very nasty down-in-the-gutter stuff — how did you feel about that?"
Morgan was clear:
"Well, let's put that into perspective ..."
"Not a lot of that went on ..."
“A lot of it was done by third parties, rather than the staff themselves ..."
"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 make no pretence about the stuff we used to do."
"I simply say the net of people doing it was very wide ..."
These comments echoed his views when News of the World royal correspondent Clive Goodman was gaoled for hacking royal phones in 2007.
Morgan — who had been Goodman's editor at the News of the World in 1995 — told trade journal Press Gazette he had a lot of sympathy for Goodman:
"... a man who has been the convenient fall guy for an investigative practice that everyone knows was going on at almost every paper in Fleet Street for years."
But he suddenly changed his tune after the revelation, in July 2011, that murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler's phone had been hacked.
When the U.S. Daily Beast website resurrected his Desert Island Discs comments, Morgan was emphatic.
He told the Beast:
AS SOON as it became clear that the phone hacking scandal was going to see journalists gaoled, Piers Morgan has been trying desperately to distance himself from earlier statements which suggested he knew all about the practice ...
“For the record ... I have never hacked a phone, told anyone to hack a phone, or published any stories based on the hacking of a phone.”
By the time Morgan appeared before Lord Leveson in December 2011 he was claiming there'd been a misunderstanding during the Desert Island Discs recording:
"I didn't hear her say phone-tapping."
"She rattles off a list of stuff, and if you listen to it in real time I think you would see that."
(Readers can judge for themselves: here's the link to that edition of Desert Island Discs.)
But when Piers Morgan appeared on the programme, there was one thing he didn't tell Kirsty Young.
And when he gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, he didn't mention it either ...
It was that Young herself been the target of "down-in-the-gutter" tactics by Piers Morgan's Mirror.
The story is also pregnant with the possibility it started as a result of phone-hacking ...
THE TALE begins in September 1998.
On the 5th, the Mirror exclusively revealed the presenter had split up with Scottish rugby star Kenny Logan.
A week later, the paper found out Young had spent the night with Nick Jones, the millionaire owner of the Soho House club.
At the time Jones had just separated from his wife.
But, for reasons that have never been explained, the paper did not splash the story at that point.
Instead, senior Mirror journalist Gary Jones asked a private eye to organise a surveillance operation.
This was Jonathan Rees, a partner in the Southern Investigations detective agency.
Rees had been a suspect in the murder of his former partner Daniel Morgan in 1987.
(See The No 1 Corrupt Detective Agency on the Press Gang website for more details.)
On September 16, one of Rees' "agents" used a motorbike to keep tabs on her movements.
He spent three hours and travelled 35 miles.
The next day, it was for just under three hours, clocking up 25 miles.
On September 18, it was exactly the same.
Rees charged the paper £260.25.
Again, the Mirror didn't publish.
Again, the reasons why it hesitated have never been made clear.
On September 22 Young was once again under observation — but not by Rees and his team.
It seems the paper's own reporters, convinced Young and Jones were an item, were now mounting their own surveillance operation.
On September 22 Young was followed from the studios where she'd just finished presenting the Channel 5 News.
She left the building at 7pm and was tailed to her flat in Kensington.
Nick Jones turned up and, an hour later, the pair were photographed at a local restuarant.
They were still being watched the next morning when they had breakfast in a cafe.
The couple then travelled to Somerset to stay in the Babbington House country club near Frome, also owned by Jones' company.
After an overnight stay, Young caught the London train in time to read that evening's Channel 5 News.
But it took another week before the Daily Mirror exclusively revealed — in a double page spread on September 30 — that the couple were an item.
The piece was written by Lucy Rock and Oonagh Blackman.
"DARK ARTS" MASTER
GARY JONES — today he's executive editor of the Sunday Mirror — was one of the key figures in the illegal news-gathering activities at the Daily Mirror. A former crime reporter on the News of the World when Piers Morgan was editor in 1994-199, he moved to the Mirror in 1996.
So why did it take the Mirror so long to make its dramatic revelation?
The paper sat on the information for at least a week — and possibly a fortnight.
The story was tabloid dynamite and every day the Mirror risked being scooped by one of its rivals.
Surveillance has never been illegal and — at that time — listening to phone messages was not unlawful.
But paying someone to blag confidential details of phone numbers and PIN codes was a criminal offence.
Was this the original source of the story — and the paper was desperate to find alternative sources for the story?
Former Daily Mirror reporter James Hipwell claims that, by mid-1999, phone hacking was "rife" and "endemic" at the paper, especially on its showbiz desk.
Even though Hipwell was gaoled for insider dealing at the paper in 2000, his testimony was considered reliable by Lord Leveson — and by Mr Justice Mann in last month's civil case.
I ASKED all those involved in the Kirsty Young story to comment.
Gary Jones, the senior journalist who asked Jonathan Rees to carry out the surveillance operation, didn't reply.
He's been named in several of my articles but doesn't answer emails.
THE FORMER Mirror financial reporter claims that phone hacking started at the Daily Mirror in mid-1999. Although he was gaoled for insider dealing at the Daily Mirror, judges — including Lord Leveson and Mr Justice Mann, have believed his testimony.
I haven't been able to contact Oonagh Blackman, one of the reporters who wrote the exposé of Kirsty Young and Nick Jones' relationship.
I emailed the other by-lined journalist, Lucy Rock — now news editor at The Observer.
She told me:
"I was asked by the newsdesk to 'doorstep' those involved."
"I don't know where the tip came from, but there was never any suggestion of phone hacking."
"Indeed, I heard no mention of this practice during my time at The Mirror."
We were unable to reach Piers Morgan.
He's never answered any of our emails.
We left a message with Nick Jones, Kirsty Young's husband, at Soho House.
He didn't come back to me.
THERE'S A lot more to unearth in Piers Morgan's past.
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