What did Piers Morgan tell Jeremy Paxman about phone hacking?

The Leveson Inquiry hears of an interesting conversation.

Today at the Leveson Inquiry, Jeremy Paxman revealed he was present at a lunch in September 2002 when the then Mirror editor Piers Morgan allegedly explained in detail how to access the voicemails of a mobile telephone.  According to the Guardian report, Paxman said:

I was really struck by something Piers Morgan said. I was sat between him on my left and the editor of Sunday Mirror on my right. Ulrika Jonsson was sat opposite.

Morgan said, teasing Ulrika, that he knew what had happened in conversations between her and Sven-Göran Eriksson, and he went into this mock Swedish accent.

Now I don't know whether he was repeating a conversation that he had heard, or he was imagining this conversation ... It was a rather bad parody.

I was struck by it because I am wet behind the ears; I didn't know this sort of thing went on.

He turned to me and said: "Have you got a mobile phone?" I said yes. He said: "Have you got a security setting on the message bit of it?" ... I didn't know what he was talking about.

He then explained that the way to get access to people's messages was to go to the factory default setting and press 0000 and 1234 and if you didn't put your own code in, his words were, "you are a fool".

There is no evidence that Morgan himself accessed any voicemail. Morgan has always denied there was phone hacking at the Daily Mirror under his editorship from 1995 to 2004.

But what remains unclear is the extent of his knowledge of the techniques and practices of phone hacking.  As the New Statesman has pointed out, Morgan was present at an award ceremony in May 2002 when he was teased in public by Sun editor Dominic Mohan.  Mohan was reported as saying he thanked "Vodafone's lack of security" for the Mirror's showbusiness exclusives.  

Morgan provided his own recollection of the lunch attended by Paxman in his oral evidence when he appeared at the Leveson Inquiry:

Jay: Did you listen to Ulrika Jonsson's voicemail messages in relation to Sven Goran Eriksson?

Morgan: No, I did not.

Jay: Do you recall a lunch at the Daily Mirror hosted by Victor Blank on 20 September 2002 when you advised Ulrika Johnson to change her PIN number and you started mimicking her Swedish accent? Do you remember that occasion?

Morgan: No, I don't remember the specifics. I think I remember her coming to a lunch.

Jay: Breaking it down into its two parts, might you have advised her to change her PIN number?

Morgan: I don't recall anything like that.

In the same evidence, Morgan also was asked about his diary entry for 26 January 2001, which stated:

But someone suggested today that people might be listening to my mobile phone messages. Apparently, if you don't change the standard security code that every phone comes with, then anyone can call your number, and if you don't answer, tap in the standard four digit code to hear all your messages.  I'll change mine just in case, but it makes me wonder how much public figures and celebrities are aware of this little trick.

One would think that anyone would remember mimicking a Swedish accent at a lunch with Ulrika Jonsson, but it seems not.  In any case, there are now some more questions about what Morgan knew about the techniques and practices of phone hacking, and when.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of New Statesman

 

Piers Morgan. Photograph: Getty Images

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

Photo: Getty
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UnHerd's rejection of the new isn't as groundbreaking as it seems to think

Tim Montgomerie's new venture has some promise, but it's trying to solve an old problem.

Information overload is oft-cited as one of the main drawbacks of the modern age. There is simply too much to take in, especially when it comes to news. Hourly radio bulletins, rolling news channels and the constant stream of updates available from the internet – there is just more than any one person can consume. 

Luckily Tim Montgomerie, the founder of ConservativeHome and former Times comment editor, is here to help. Montgomerie is launching UnHerd, a new media venture that promises to pull back and focus on "the important things rather than the latest things". 

According to Montgomerie the site has a "package of investment", at least some of which comes from Paul Marshall. He is co-founder of one of Europe's largest hedge funds, Marshall Wace, formerly a longstanding Lib Dem, and also one of the main backers and chair of Ark Schools, an academy chain. The money behind the project is on display in UnHerd's swish (if slightly overwhelming) site, Google ads promoting the homepage, and article commissions worth up to $5,000. The selection of articles at launch includes an entertaining piece by Lionel Shriver on being a "news-aholic", though currently most of the bylines belong to Montgomerie himself. 

Guidelines for contributors, also meant to reflect the site's "values", contain some sensible advice. This includes breaking down ideas into bullet points, thinking about who is likely to read and promote articles, and footnoting facts. 

The guidelines also suggest focusing on what people will "still want to read in six, 12 or 24 months" and that will "be of interest to someone in Cincinnati or Perth as well as Vancouver or St Petersburg and Cape Town and Edinburgh" – though it's not quite clear how one of Montgomerie's early contributions, a defence of George Osborne's editorship of the Evening Standard, quite fits that global criteria. I'm sure it has nothing to do with the full page comment piece Montgomerie got in Osborne's paper to bemoan the deficiencies of modern media on the day UnHerd launched. 

UnHerd's mascot  – a cow – has also created some confusion, compounded by another line in the writing tips describing it as "a cow, who like our target readers, tends to avoid herds and behave in unmissable ways as a result". At least Montgomerie only picked the second-most famous poster animal for herding behaviour. It could have been a sheep. In any case, the line has since disappeared from the post – suggesting the zoological inadequacy of the metaphor may have been recognised. 

There is one way in which UnHerd perfectly embodies its stated aim of avoiding the new – the idea that we need to address the frenetic nature of modern news has been around for years.

"Slow news" – a more considered approach to what's going on in the world that takes in the bigger picture – has been talked about since at least the beginning of this decade.

In fact, it's been around so long that it has become positively mainstream. That pusher of rolling coverage the BBC has been talking about using slow news to counteract fake news, and Montgomerie's old employers, the Times decided last year to move to publishing digital editions at set points during the day, rather than constantly updating as stories break. Even the Guardian – which has most enthusiastically embraced the crack-cocaine of rolling web coverage, the live blog – also publishes regular long reads taking a deep dive into a weighty subject. 

UnHerd may well find an audience particularly attuned to its approach and values. It intends to introduce paid services – an especially good idea given the perverse incentives to chase traffic that come with relying on digital advertising. The ethos it is pitching may well help persuade people to pay, and I don't doubt Montgomerie will be able to find good writers who will deal with big ideas in interesting ways. 

But the idea UnHerd is offering a groundbreaking solution to information overload is faintly ludicrous. There are plenty of ways for people to disengage from the news cycle – and plenty of sources of information and good writing that allow people to do it while staying informed. It's just that given so many opportunities to stay up to date with what has just happened, few people decide they would rather not know.