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 Images
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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.