The Mirror’s top brass are under threat – from a long-forgotten row with a former employee
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
Powerful ex-members of the Board and Legal Department at Britain’s biggest newspaper publisher are under fire – because of an obscure Employment Tribunal claim that took place 12-years-ago.
A witness statement made by an aggrieved former employee has come back to haunt the Mirror Group because he made allegations about phone-hacking long before it became public.
The question of intercepting voicemails, at the Daily Mirror and its sister Sunday papers, is no longer in dispute – the company finally admitted liability for illegality nearly 5 years ago.
However, questions are now being raised about whether the company’s senior lawyers and Board members discussed phone-hacking years before – and whether they covered it up between 2007 and 2014.
The Company denies the allegations.
Caption: The Claims Guy ...Mirror Legal Boss Marcus Partington is in charge of settling claims for phone hacking at the PLC - but now he's in the frame for allegations of knowing in 2007, which he denies.
They have been accused in two court hearings of being aware of phone hacking – allegations which they deny.
However, today our reporters analyse the curious case of unrelated unfair dismissal, which led to Mr. Vickers and Mr. Partington being unexpectedly dragged personally into complex rolling litigation.
So far phone hacking claims – of victims who have been suing Mirror Group Newspapers in the High Court since 2012 - have cost the publicly-listed company an estimated £80 million.
But money may have been saved if lawyers and executives had listened to a whistleblower called David Brown, long before phone-hacking became public.
In April 2006, the company sacked Brown, a senior Sunday People journalist, for gross misconduct.
Brown was dismissed for writing-up stories for the People that had been sold to him from a contact at the Daily Mirror from their “held” story queue.
He complained that he’d been sacked for a relatively minor offence, whilst the much more serious issue of phone-hacking, carried out by his colleagues, went on unpunished.
Rumours about who knew what about Mr. Brown’s claims have been circulating in Fleet Street circles for years.
But in January of this year, The Mirror mounted a legal bid to stop a tape of a conversation – which mentions Brown, Vickers and Partington - from being deployed in the Mirror hacking litigation.
The Mirror argued that the parts of the tape were legally privileged, a legal concept which allows such material to remain confidential between the lawyer and the client.
The company applied for an injunction to prevent the use of the tape.
MGN also argued that notes made by Mr. Partington on Mr. Brown’s Employment Tribunal statement were privileged, because they were his, or another law firm’s advice, to his client.
Mr. Justice Norris in his judgment on the Mirror’s application, summarised Mr. Brown’s unfair dismissal claim and stated:
‘The thrust of his case was that his dismissal was completely inconsistent in the light of far worse behavior of others of the paper which went unpunished or was treated less harshly.’
On 16 May 2007, Mr. Brown served a witness statement evidencing his case of unfair treatment.
One of the examples of ‘common wrongdoing’ that he used was ‘phone hacking,’ also known as ‘screwing phones.’
Mr. Brown recounted being sent to confront someone who was suspected of being the new lover of a TV presenter ‘on the basis of information being gleaned from her mobile phone.’
Mr. Brown stated:
‘The People regularly used information from ‘screwed’ mobile phones, where private citizens' mobile phone numbers were hacked into for personal information.’
Mr. Brown’s claimed, in the wake of an earlier criminal case at the rival News of The World paper in 2006, that the company’s Human Resources boss Jill Harrison was advising executives to ‘deny’ being involved in phone hacking, if asked by the press.
Mr Brown wrote in his evidence:
‘[the head of resources] contacted executives on Trinity Mirror's national titles to tell them that if they were asked by other newspapers or trade publications whether they had used information from "screwed" mobile phones, they should deny it ... Harrison's advice indicates that a major media plc was not only allowing its staff to carry out illegal activity by at best turning a blind eye to it, but also taking part in organised cover up of that activity."
Byline Investigates will reveal more details about the case of Mr. Brown, and how its impacting on MGN now, in the next instalment of this series.
End of Part 3
More Follows in Part 4