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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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.