Phone-hacking ‘bog standard’ at Mirror

By Alex Stevenson

Former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan's phone-hacking denials have been challenged by an ex-journalist at the tabloid.

Former financial journalist James Hipwell suggested Mr Morgan must have known about the practice during his evidence to the Leveson inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press this morning.

Mr Hipwell said he thought the illegality of phone-hacking was never considered and that it was "fair game" to target celebrities' voicemail.

"I witnessed journalists carrying out repeated privacy infringements using what has now become a well-known technique – to hack into the voicemail systems of celebrities, their friends, publicists and public relations executives," he told the inquiry.

"The openness and frequency of their hacking activities gave me the impression that hacking was considered a bog-standard journalistic tool for gathering information."

Mr Morgan, who appeared via videolink before the inquiry yesterday, said he placed great emphasis on the Press Complaints Commission's code of conduct while at the tabloid.

Mr Hipwell said he had never seen the code referred to, however.

"Showbiz hacks discussed techniques and products of hacking openly," his statement added.

"I would go as far as to say it happened every day. It became apparent that a great number of stories… would come from that source."

Mr Morgan was "very interested in celebrity gossip" and would discuss "where the stories come from", Mr Hipwell said.

Yesterday Mr Morgan, now a US TV chatshow host, said he did not "believe" there had been any phone-hacking when he was editor of the Mirror "to the best of my recollection".

He served as the tabloid's editor from 1994 until 2004. Mr Hipwell worked on the newspaper from 1998 until 2000. He was subsequently jailed for six months for selling shares in a company after mentioning them in his City Slickers column.

In his statement Mr Hipwell insisted he was not seeking to "get even" with the newspaper and did not have an "axe to grind".

"I have spent 11 years trying to move on from what happened and have nothing to gain from reminding the world about my criminal conviction," he wrote.

"But I felt compelled to speak, when asked, about what I saw take place in the Mirror newsroom."