ON MAY 21 Mr Justice Mann delivered a damning verdict on the Mirror group.
He found that its newspapers — the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and the People — had engaged in phone hacking and other illegal news-gathering on a massive scale.
In a test case at the High Court, he ordered the company to pay £1.2 million in damages to just eight victims.
Six of these — including the footballer Paul Gascoigne, BBC executive Alan Yentob and the actress Sadie Frost — were also hacked by reporters working for Piers Morgan during his 1995-2004 tenure as Daily Mirror editor.
Many more cases are in the pipeline.
Morgan himself has been interviewed under caution by detectives as part of Operation Golding, the Scotland Yard inquiry into phone hacking at the group.
Press Gang continues its investigation of the former tabloid editor with a revealing tale of the Daily Mirror’s intrusion into the private life of television newsreader Kirsty Young.
IN 2009 Piers Morgan was put on the spot about his knowledge of the “dark arts” — including phone hacking — at the Mirror.
He was a guest on the BBC Desert Island Discs programme in June that year.
Presenter Kirsty Young asked him:
“And what about this nice middle-class boy who would have to be dealing with, I mean, essentially people who rake through people’s bins for a living?
THE SCOTTISH journalist’s interview with Piers Morgan on Desert Island Discs in 2009 has proved a serious embarrassment for the former Daily Mirror editor.
“People who tap people’s phones, people who take secret photographs… who do all that very nasty down-in-the-gutter stuff — how did you feel about that?”
Morgan was clear:
“Well, let’s put that into perspective …”
“Not a lot of that went on …”
“A lot of it was done by third parties, rather than the staff themselves …”
“That’s not to defend it, because obviously you were running the results of their work.”
“I’m quite happy … to have to sit here defending all these things I used to get up to …”
“I make no pretence about the stuff we used to do.”
“I simply say the net of people doing it was very wide …”
These comments echoed his views when News of the World royal correspondent Clive Goodman was gaoled for hacking royal phones in 2007.
Morgan — who had been Goodman’s editor at the News of the World in 1995 — told trade journal Press Gazette he had a lot of sympathy for Goodman:
“… a man who has been the convenient fall guy for an investigative practice that everyone knows was going on at almost every paper in Fleet Street for years.”
But he suddenly changed his tune after the revelation, in July 2011, that murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked.
When the U.S. Daily Beast website resurrected his Desert Island Discs comments, Morgan was emphatic.
He told the Beast:
AS SOON as it became clear that the phone hacking scandal was going to see journalists gaoled, Piers Morgan has been struggling to distance himself from earlier statements suggesting he knew all about the practice.
“For the record … I have never hacked a phone, told anyone to hack a phone, or published any stories based on the hacking of a phone.”
By the time Morgan appeared before Lord Leveson in December 2011 he was claiming there’d been a misunderstanding during the Desert Island Discs recording:
“I didn’t hear her say phone-tapping.”
“She rattles off a list of stuff, and if you listen to it in real time I think you would see that.”
(Readers can judge for themselves: here’s the link to that edition of Desert Island Discs.)
But when Piers Morgan appeared on the programme, there was one thing he didn’t tell Kirsty Young.
And when he gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, he didn’t mention it either …
It was that Young herself been the target of “down-in-the-gutter” tactics by Piers Morgan’s Mirror.
The story is also pregnant with the possibility it started as a result of phone-hacking …
THE TALE begins in September 1998.
On the 5th, the Mirror exclusively revealed the presenter had split up with Scottish rugby star Kenny Logan.
A week later, the Mirror found out that Young had spent the night with Nick Jones, the millionaire owner of the Soho House club.
At the time Jones had just separated from his wife.
But, for reasons that have never been explained, the paper did not splash the story at that point.
THE ENTREPRENEUR who founded the Soho House group, Jones had just separated from his wife Tania when he met Kirsty Young. The new couple — who are now married — were targeted by Piers Morgan’s Daily Mirror when their relationship began in 1998.
Instead, senior Mirror journalist Gary Jones asked a private eye to organise a surveillance operation.
This was Jonathan Rees, a partner in the Southern Investigations detective agency.
Rees had been a suspect in the murder of his former partner Daniel Morgan in 1987.
(See The No 1 Corrupt Detective Agency for more details.)
On September 16, one of Rees’ “agents” used a motorbike to keep tabs on her movements.
He spent three hours and travelled 35 miles.
The next day, it was for just under three hours, clocking up 25 miles.
On September 18, it was exactly the same.
Rees charged the paper £260.25.
Again, the Mirror didn’t publish.
Again, the reasons why it hesitated have never been made clear.
On September 22 Young was once again under observation — but not by Rees and his team.
THE CONTROVERSIAL private eye was an important cog in the Daily Mirror’s illegal news-gathering operation. Rees had been a suspect in the 1987 murder of his partner Daniel Morgan and was later convicted of conspiracy to plant cocaine on an innocent woman. He was given a seven year prison sentence.
It seems the paper’s own reporters, convinced Young and Jones were an item, were now mounting their own surveillance operation.
On September 22 Young was followed from the studios where she’d just finished presenting the Channel 5 News.
She left the building at 7pm and was tailed to her flat in Kensington.
Nick Jones turned up and, an hour later, the pair were photographed at a local restuarant.
They were still being watched the next morning when they had breakfast in a cafe.
The couple then travelled to Somerset to stay in the Babbington House country club near Frome, also owned by Jones’ company.
After an overnight stay, Young caught the London train in time to read that evening’s Channel 5 News.
But it took another week before the Daily Mirror exclusively revealed — in a double page spread on September 30 — that the couple were an item.
The piece was written by Lucy Rock and Oonagh Blackman.
“DARK ARTS” MASTER
GARY JONES — today he’s executive editor of the Sunday Mirror — was one of the key figures in the illegal news-gathering activities at the Daily Mirror. A former crime reporter on the News of the World when Piers Morgan was editor in 1994-199, he moved to the Mirror in 1996.
So why did it take the Mirror so long to make its dramatic revelation?
The paper sat on the information for at least a week — and possibly a fortnight.
The story was tabloid dynamite and every day the Mirror risked being scooped by one of its rivals.
Surveillance has never been illegal and — at that time — listening to phone messages was not unlawful.
But paying someone to blag confidential details of phone numbers and PIN codes was a criminal offence.
Was this the original source of the story — and the paper was desperate to find alternative sources for the story?
Former Daily Mirror reporter James Hipwell claims that, by mid-1999, phone hacking was “rife” and “endemic” at the paper, especially on its showbiz desk.
Even though Hipwell was gaoled for insider dealing at the paper in 2000, his testimony was considered reliable by Lord Leveson — and by Mr Justice Mann in last month’s civil case.
WE ASKED all those involved in the Kirsty Young story to comment.
Gary Jones, the senior journalist who asked Jonathan Rees to carry out the surveillance operation, didn’t reply.
He’s been named in several Press Gang articles but doesn’t answer our emails.
THE FORMER Daily Mirror financial reporter claims that phone hacking started at the paper in mid-1999. Although he was gaoled for insider dealing at the Daily Mirror, judges — including Lord Leveson and Mr Justice Mann — have believed his testimony.
We have not been able to contact Oonagh Blackman, one of the reporters who wrote the exposé of Kirsty Young and Nick Jones’ relationship.
We emailed the other by-lined journalist, Lucy Rock — now news editor at The Observer.
She told us:
“I was asked by the newsdesk to ‘doorstep’ those involved.”
“I don’t know where the tip came from, but there was never any suggestion of phone hacking.”
“Indeed, I heard no mention of this practice during my time at The Mirror.”
We were unable to reach Piers Morgan.
He’s never answered any of our emails.
We left a message with Nick Jones, Kirsty Young’s husband, at Soho House.
He didn’t come back to us.
IN 2005 Piers Morgan published his best-selling memoirs, The Insider.
It’s an account of his years as editor of the News of the World (1994-1995) and Daily Mirror (1995-2004).
There’s not a word about the “dark arts” practiced at the Daily Mirror.
In the late 1990s anti-corruption detectives at Scotland Yard launched Operation Two Bridges against Jonathan Rees and his Southern Investigations private detective agency.
They wanted information about Rees’ attempts to corrupt serving police officers — and about his alleged involvement in the 1987 murder of his partner Daniel Morgan.
Invoices seized from Southern Investigations during Operation Two Bridges show the firm was a key element in Piers Morgan’s editorial strategy.
PIERS MORGAN published his memoirs — The Insider — in 2005 but there’s no mention of the “dark arts” used at the Daily Mirror …
In August 2011 BBC economics editor Robert Peston obtained a set of these invoices.
He revealed that, between October 1997 and September 1999, the Mirror group used Jonathan Rees on 230 occasions.
Peston calculated that the Daily and Sunday Mirror paid Rees just under £67,000.
Many of these were simple “fishing expeditions” — finding out about famous people’s financial affairs.
Often the information was not newsworthy — and nothing appeared in the Daily Mirror.
Press Gang has also obtained a set of these invoices.
Here are some of the entries that could have gone into Piers Morgan’s diaries — if he’d decided to tell the truth about what the Daily Mirror was really up to …
20 May 1998 The Mirror’s Gary Jones ordered “confidential enquiries” on “Emma Noble”, then girlfriend of former Prime Minister John Major’s son. No private information appeared in the paper. Cost: £282.
13 July 1998 In another fishing expedition, Gary Jones asked Jonathan Rees to obtain “bankers details” on No 10 advisor Roger Liddle and lobbyist Derek Draper. The two men were suspected of selling access to Labour ministers. The cost — £662.47.
21 Sept 1998 Arthur Scargill’s wife, Dr Margaret Scargill, was the target. Gary Jones spent £403.37 on “bankers details”. Nothing appeared in the paper.
THE FORMER captain of the England rugby team, Carling was blagged by the Daily Mirror in 1998. The paper published details of his bank account and mortgage.
6 Oct 1998 The paper paid Jonathan Rees £677.97 to dig out personal information on Will Carling. The former England rugby international was in the news because he’d left his wife. Gary Jones ordered the search for “Financial / Company Information” which was extracted from “RBS, Abbey National”. The bill was £677.97.
This time personal information was published. In a long piece written by Gary Jones, Colin Price and Oonagh Blackman on October 7, two quotes stand out. One says: “Last month Carling took £5,000 in salary from the business to pay his mortgage.” One of his companies — Inspirational Horizons — “has just £1,500 in its account”. This could have come from his RBS bank account.
The second states: “The star, who has a £400,000 mortgage on the five bedroom property, needs to find more than £2,800 a month in repayments.” Did this come from his Abbey National mortgage? Will Carling told us he did not want to comment.
19 Oct 1998 Jonathan Rees sent Gary Jones two bills relating to an investigation of the business affairs of TV presenter Anthea Turner’s then boyfriend Grant Bovey. Turner had left her husband the previous January and moved in with Bovey. The first invoice, for £500, was for “confidential enquiries” about Bovey and his wife. The second — “undertaking detailed financial searches” into Bovey — was worth £569. The total was £1,069.
A double page spread had appeared on Bovey’s affairs four days earlier. The piece — written by Gary Jones, Matthew Wright and Oonagh Blackman— stated Bovey’s bankers were “calling for crisis talks to discuss his personal problems.” “They have told him to stop issuing cheques after running up an overdraft of nearly £16,000.” This information could have been blagged from Bovey’s bank.
THE LABOUR minister was another victim of the Daily Mirror. He resigned as Trade Secretary in December 1998 after it was revealed he’d failed to declare a £378,000 personal loan from fellow minister Geoffrey Robinson. The day before his resignation the Mirror’s Gary Jones asked Jonathan Rees to blag details of the Trade Minister’s bank and mortgage accounts. The Mirror revealed Mandelson had £50,000 in a Coutts account — and that his £150,000 mortgage with the Britannia Building Society cost £1,000 a month. According to the BBC’s Robert Peston, the Mandelson operation cost the Mirror £1,116.
4 Jan 1999 Gary Jones paid Jonathan Rees £499.37 to find information about Alistair Campbell, Prime Minister Tony Blair’s press secretary. No personal financial details appeared in the Mirror. The cost was £499.37.
15 Mar 1999 The Mirror pays £264.37 for information about Mick Jagger — no confidential material appeared in the paper.
ALL OF these individuals have grounds for suing the Daily Mirror.
Their chances of success have been strengthened by last month’s verdict in the eight “sample” cases heard by Mr Justice Mann.
The judge ruled that, even for those whose confidential details were never published in the newspaper, damages can be awarded.
His judgment also reveals the extraordinary scale of illegal newsgathering — the “dark arts” — at the Mirror and its stablemates.
THE MIRROR’S limited apology published in February this year — more than 15 years after the paper began phone hacking. In the civil case last month, Mr Justice Mann considered this to be motivated by “tactical” legal reasons rather than genuine “contrition” …
Up to now, for example, Press Gang has only been aware of two private eyes who were used by the papers.
They are Jonathan Rees of Southern Investigations in the years up to 1999 and Steve Whittamore in the early 2000s.
The BBC revealed that the Daily and Sunday Mirror spent £67,000 with Southern Investigations between 1997 and 1999.
An analysis by ITV News showed that the Daily Mirror paid Steve Whittamore at least £92,000 up until his arrest in March 2003.
That makes a total of £159,000.
But the Mann verdict reveals this was just the tip of the iceberg.
Judge Mann noted that the Mirror papers:
“admitted paying over £2.25 million (in over 13,000 invoices) to certain named private eyes in the years from 2000 to 2007.”
“The total covers a lot of agents, and some of their work may have been legitimate.”
But the judge added that the Mirror’s legal team:
“has admitted that ‘an unquantifiable but substantial’ number of the inquiries made of the agents is likely to have been to obtain private information that could not be obtained lawfully.”
In other words, illegal news-gathering — including but not limited to phone hacking — was taking place on a colossal scale at the group.
Published: 7 June 2015
© Press Gang
1 There are reporting restrictions in the recent civil case against the Mirror group. Mr Justice Mann has ordered the names of several journalists should be redacted — apparently because they are the subject of active police inquiries.
2 A more detailed analysis of Mr Justice Mann’s decision will be included in a planned article — The Mirror: Crack’d From Side To Side — about the group’s disastrous management of the scandal.
3 Since the Mann judgment opens the way to everyone targeted by the Daily Mirror, a full list of all those whose names are included in the Southern Investigations invoices will be added to this post later. They include, for example, the environmental activist Daniel “Swampy” Hooper as well as scores of ordinary people …
DIAL M FOR MORGAN
THE JUDGE in last month’s civil case against the Mirror group accepted that phone hacking became a key feature of the papers in mid-1999. In part four of A Pretty Despicable Man Press Gang presents cast-iron evidence Daily Mirror reporters were hacking the phones of senior politicians a year earlier…
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