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