Hostile encounter: Piers Morgan in gruelling Leveson inquiry interrogation

By Ian Dunt

Piers Morgan endured a sobering interrogation at the hands of the Leveson inquiry this afternoon, as the former Mirror editor was forced to repeatedly insist he never engaged in phone-hacking.

Giving evidence by videolink from Los Angeles, the prominent CNN interviewer answered dozens of questions from an unusually ill-tempered lead counsel, Robert Jay, and LordJustice Leveson himself.

Asked if there was any phone-hacking at the Mirror while he was editor, Mr Morgan answered: "To the best of my recollection, I do not believe so."

On the use of private investigators, he said: "I was never directly involved.

"This was dealt with through the news desk or the features desk so, like most editors, you just would not get directly involved."

Mr Morgan sometimes appeared to offer contradictory evidence, at one point saying he was aware "of about five per cent" of what his journalists were up to, but later insisting he "took a keen interest in everything".

During one exchange Lord Justice Leveson was forced to interrupt to tell Mr Morgan: "I would be very grateful if you would just answer Mr Jay's question rather than get into a debate with him."

Later, Mr Jay told Mr Morgan: "You come close to arguing a position rather than giving us evidence."

Cutting an uncomfortable figure on the video screen, Mr Morgan repeatedly insisted he was unaware of any instances of phone-hacking at the Mirror under his tenure.

During one particularly gruelling exchange, Mr Morgan refused to say how he came to hear a voicemail conversation between Sir Paul McCartney and his then wife Heather Mills.

"I can't say who played that tape because to do would be to reveal a source and I can't do that," he said.

"The inquiry already stated to me you don't expect me to reveal my sources."

Asked if he thought hearing the message was unethical, Mr Morgan replied: "It doesn't follow listening to someone speaking to someone else is unethical. It depends on the circumstances in which you listen to it."

Mr Morgan was then asked: "Can you tell us what circumstances would lead you to believe it was unethical?"

He replied: "I'm afraid I can't."

He added: "Sorry, what do you expect me to say? I can't go into details on this without compromising a source."

At the end of the session, Mr Morgan said: "It's gone like I thought it would.

"It slightly concerns me. I've been watching the inquiry, but there has to be a better balance here. A lot of the very good things newspaper did are not being highlighted at all."

Many figures, particularly on the right of British politics, believe Mr Morgan has questions to answer about his conduct at the Daily Mirror.

Mr Morgan steered the newspaper towards opposing the Iraq war, but he was eventually forced to resign after images of British troops abusing civilians were found to have been faked.