Mystery surrounds ‘phone hacking’ legal advice given by Mirror Lawyer Marcus Partington - SEVEN years before truth came out
· Phone -hacking victims who are suing MGN allege this was to keep him quiet.
· The claimants says it is evidence that the current Group Legal Director knew about voicemail interception – an allegation he denies.
· MGN have sought to keep the contents of the mystery note a ‘secret’ and said it is legally privileged.
· Part 4 of Byline Investigates’ series probing ‘Board Level’ knowledge.
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
A handwritten note scrawled by a top lawyer in the margin of a legal document may hold the key to opening-up allegations of board level corruption at Britain’s biggest newspaper publisher.
Mystery surrounds exactly what the Mirror’s Group Legal Director Marcus Partington wrote on the witness statement he was reading twelve years ago.
But alleged victims of phone hacking claim it demonstrates that he and his high-level colleagues knew that illegal activity was going on, and as revealed in detail in Part 1 of this story.
Caption: Mr. Partington's mysterious note has taken on a life of its own in multi-million pound rolling litigation, which is continuing to damage the once-proud, supposedly left-leaning newspaper group.
After the note was made, the FTSE-listed company went on to issue hundreds of denials - to their readers, their PCC regulator, Parliament, the Leveson Inquiry, the stock market and the wider public - that phone-hacking had ever taken place.
Moreover, solicitors, in their role as Officers of the Court, have special legal and ethical obligations, which involve reporting allegations of crime, and not covering them up.
Critics claim that the company could have saved face amid later public disgrace, saved tens of millions of pounds in damages, and rescued a plummeting share price, by coming clean early on.
Consequently, the handwritten sentence – known in the case as 'the Partington Note’ - has become hugely controversial in the latest wave of rolling phone hacking litigation against The Mirror.
So much so, that in January this year publisher Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) applied for an injunction to stop references to it being deployed in court.
The back story as to what prompted MGN to make the application is complex.
In short, it came about after a former employee Graham Johnson recorded a conversation he had with David Grigson - then Chairman of MGN’s parent company Trinity Mirror Group plc- at the Trinity Mirror Annual General Meeting, in which they spoke about Mr. Partington.
Caption: Former Trinity Mirror Chairman David Grigson was known for his fair management style, telling it like it is.
Johnson, the ex-Investigations Editor at The Sunday Mirror, asked Grigson if he was aware that Mr Partington had written a note in the margins of an employment tribunal statement made by David Brown.
As revealed in Part 3 of this series, Mr Brown was sacked from the Sunday People in April 2006 for using unpublished Daily Mirror articles without authorisation or attribution.
But the senior reporter defended himself by saying that much worse practices went on at The People, including phone hacking.
On January 30th this year, Mr. Justice Norris published his judgment about MGN’s application to injunct the use of 'the Partington Note.’
The judge wrote: ‘On one copy of the Brown Statement Mr. Partington made a marginal note which may record some oral advice received from DLA (external lawyers) or may be revelatory of his own assessment of some of Mr. Brown's allegations.I will call this "the Partington Note.” ’
Shortly afterwards in 2007, Mr Brown's claim was settled when MGN paid him a ‘significant sum,’ with the proviso of a gagging clause.
Today’s alleged hacking victims claim, that by reading Mr Brown’s statement, Mr Partington became aware of phone-hacking at the Mirror Group.
In contrast, MGN claim that Mr Partington and the other executives simply dismissed Mr Brown’s allegations as untrue, an assertion that he denies.
However, the claimants have also made a more serious allegation.
They claim that the note showed that Mr Partington was already aware of phone-hacking and that he has also told his then boss Paul Vickers, who was then on the Board of Trinity Mirror, as revealed in Part 2 of this series.
In addition, it is alleged that Chief Executive Sly Bailey was also aware.
The wider allegation is that this shows a pattern of wrongdoing in which knowledge of crimes spread up the chain from reporter to lawyers to board level.
But instead of launching an internal investigation – or informing the police – it is alleged that some of the company’s senior officers agreed to pay Mr. Brown to keep quiet.
Mirror Group claim that whatever Partington wrote in the margin of Brown’s witness statement was privileged legal advice, and could not be relied upon by the Claimants in the case.
The judge upheld this part of the Mirror Group’s application.
Byline Investigates has offered the right-to-reply to Reach, Mr. Partington, Mr. Vickers and Ms. Bailey, however to date comments have not been received.
END OF PART FOUR
More follows in the fifth installment of this series.