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.)

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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

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