How The Mirror newspaper tried - and failed - to stop its top lawyer from being named in court
Full disclosure: The following story contains a reference to a tape-recording of a conversation that took place between former Trinity Mirror Chairman David Grigson and former Sunday Mirror journalist Graham Johnson. Graham Johnson is the Head of Investigations at byline.com and bylineinvestigates.com.
By Byline Investigates
NEW allegations about alleged high-level corruption at Britain’s biggest newspaper publisher can be revealed in more detail, for the first time today.
Mr. Partington denies knowing about any illegal activities that took place.
Caught by the court: Mirror's Group Legal Director Marcus Partington captured on camera outside the Royal Courts of Justice in Central London, home to the High Court in which he has been named.
However, today, we can reveal how the Mirror failed in an earlier legal bid to prevent Mr. Partington from being named.
The allegations against him are contained in a transcript of a conversation between David Grigson, the ex-Chairman of the Mirror Group, and Graham Johnson, the former Investigations Editor of one of the company’s national titles.
The comments in the transcript raise questions about what the Mirror’s current Group Legal Director knew about phone hacking, alleging that he may even have been ‘aware that things were going on.’
The transcript can be published after Trinity Mirror Group – now known as Reach PLC - lost a legal bid to keep some of the contents secret.
As a consequence, the transcript was referred to in open court recently.
The publisher of 250 newspapers aimed to keep parts of document confidential, which would have prevented journalists from reporting it, and prevented a court being told about it, over a week ago on May 23rd2019.
In a segment of the conversation, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Grigson talked about one instance of phone hacking that was allegedly covered-up.
The example concerned a former Trinity Mirror employee called David Brown who, in the mid-2000s, reported phone hacking at the Company in a legal document.
In one segment of the transcript, reproduced below, Mr. Johnson accused Mr. Partington of concealing phone hacking allegations – and, on the face of it. Mr. Grigson appeared to agree with Mr. Johnson’s assertions by saying ‘yes’.
He has, however, since disputed what he appeared to be saying:
Johnson: He (Marcus Partington) was told in 2006 that phone hacking was going on in the employment tribunal involving David Brown ..
Johnson: ‘…and he chose ... to pay out and cover it up.
Grigson: Right, yes."
The Top Mirrorman: David Grigson was in charge of the newspapers' clean-up operations - but has now left to chair Investis Digital.
Mr. Grigson was not at the Mirror when phone hacking was going on, but after joining in January 2012 took charge of the company’s Board which was supervising internal investigations.
He is now Chairman of digital media company Investis.
Byline Investigates offered Mr. Grigson the right to reply to these allegations, in emails sent to Investis Digital and Reach PLC, however no reply has been received.
MGN, a subsidiary of publicly listed company, Trinity Mirror, had applied in December last year for a Court Order to stop parts the transcript from being relied on, or deployed in court last week, by claimants suing Mirror Group Newspapers for phone hacking.
Hundreds of victims have so far been compensated by MGN since 2012 for having their privacy intruded upon, to the the tune of around £80 million in damages and legal costs.
After years of strenuous denials, including throughout the Leveson Inquiry, in late 2014 the Company eventually admitted widespread and long-standing phone-hacking and data theft, and this was confirmed in a devastating judgment by Mr. Justice Mann in 2015.
This Gulati judgment – named after phone hacking victim Shobna Gulati - which has recently been unredacted, found that editors and other senior journalists had been involved in the criminal activities and that there had been a cover-up.
However, in recent cases, the victims’ lawyers have made more serious allegations that go beyond unlawful information gathering by journalists and news executives, and their own involvement in the cover-up.
Two victims– TV personalities John Leslie and Chantelle Houghton - were the first to allege that knowledge of wrongdoing went higher than the newsroom to board level, and even included members of the papers’ in-house legal teams, such as Marcus Partington.
As Officers of the Court, solicitors have special legal and ethical obligations.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority states: ‘Solicitors must always act with integrity. As well as not being dishonest, this includes having sound morals and following the ethical codes of the legal profession.’
Bylines Investigates offered Mr. Partington’s employers Reach PLC the opportunity to comment on these allegations, however we have not received a response.
Earlier this year, on January 30th, the Hon. Mr Justice Norris dismissed MGN’s application to have the key parts of the Grigson transcript deemed legally privileged in the proceedings.
Legal privilege protects all communications between a professional legal adviser and his or her clients from being disclosed without the permission of the client.
The client in this case is the Mirror Group itself which, not surprisingly, tried to use the privilege rule to exempt Mr. Grigson’s comments from being used.
The claimants say that the transcript is evidence - along with other documents – not only that the board of the company knew about phone hacking but that they also deliberately chose to conceal malpractice.
In the High Court judgment, Mr. Justice Norris refers to allegations that at least one former Trinity Mirror board member - along with Partington - knew about phone hacking ‘at the time it was going on.’
End of Part One.
More follows on Part Two of Byline Investigates' series on allegations of Board Level Knowledge.