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Journalist contradicts Piers Morgan's testimony about hacking

A former columnist at the Daily Mirror, which Piers Morgan edited from 1995 to 2004, says phone hacking was common among British tabloid reporters. Morgan has said he didn't know it was being used.

December 22, 2011|By Janet Stobart, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from London — Contradicting testimony by Piers Morgan, a former reporter said in a British inquiry that phone hacking was considered a "standard journalistic tool" at the tabloid once run by the CNN host.

Former Daily Mirror business columnist James Hipwell's testimony on Wednesday clashed with Morgan's insistence a day earlier that he did not know the practice was used at the tabloid during his time as editor from 1995 to 2004.

Hipwell, who was fired from the paper in 2000 and later convicted of buying low-priced shares before recommending them in his popular City Slickers column, is now a freelance writer.

He gave his statement to a panel headed by senior judge Brian Leveson that is looking into ethical standards and practices of journalism in Britain.

Hipwell told the panel he believed hacking was used on a daily basis by the tabloid's reporters who covered show business. They would often laugh and joke about it, he said.

"I would go as far as to say it happened every day," Hipwell told the panel. "It became apparent that a great number of stories ... would come from that source." He said he even witnessed a colleague hacking into Morgan's cellphone "in front me" in 2000.

The Leveson inquiry was ordered by the British government to investigate media methods and practices following revelations in July that kidnapping victim Milly Dowler's cellphone was hacked on behalf of journalists in 2002. The 13-year-old was later found slain.

The Dowler scandal forced the closure in July of the News of the World, a popular tabloid owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Clive Goodman, a News of the World reporter who served a jail sentence for hacking into the phones of the British royal household in 2007, is so far the only journalist to be convicted in connection with the practice.

Other victims of the phone hacking included celebrities and politicians as well as crime victims and their families. Some have received or been promised out-of-court settlements. News International said Tuesday it was paying compensation to seven more victims of the phone hacking.

At Tuesday's inquiry, Morgan was grilled on the source for stories quoting phone messages between Paul McCartney and then-wife Heather Mills as their marriage broke up. He refused to reveal his source but alleged Mills was known to have revealed phone conversations to the press. Wednesday evening, a statement from Mills was carried by the BBC and British papers denying she had ever given Morgan the tapes or messages.

"For the avoidance of doubt, I can categorically state that I have never ever played Piers Morgan a tape of any kind, never mind a voice message from my ex-husband," Mills said in the statement. "Piers Morgan is doing all he can to deter the Leveson inquiry from finishing their important job."

The inquiry, expected to last at least a year, is running parallel to police investigations and parliamentary hearings on the subject.

janet.stobart@latimes.com

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