Someone from Byline Investigates has been busy, and the results are worrying for Reach plc., the company that now owns the former Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) titles. Because today at the High Court, claims have been made that MGN’s executives, and indeed most likely editors, knew rather more than they have let on about illegal news gathering at the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, and Sunday People.
At the outset it must be stressed that much of what follows are claims, not conclusions.
He gets name checked again ...
... and so does he
Having said that, it would only need part of those claims to be proven, or at least not disputed, in court to make the position of Reach plc distinctly shaky. For starters, the number of those taking action against the former MGN titles keeps increasing: “Mirror Group Newspapers facing a minimum of 132 existing and new legal actions for phone hacking and blagging private information for articles, High Court in London hears”.
Any particular part of the news-gathering spectrum involved? Apparently not: “All departments of The Sunday Mirror, The People, and Daily Mirror commissioned illegal private investigators, Court hears”. It is alleged that illegal information gathering went on on the papers’ News, TV, Showbiz, Feature, Picture and Sports Desks.
It is further alleged “The People used Starbase (Private Investigators used for unlawfully obtaining private information) to target Milly Dowler, Court Hears. Shows 'habitual' use of criminality by MGN papers, Claimants lawyers claim”. As Zelo Street noted yesterday. And then it gets seriously tasty. Unless you used to be one of those papers’ editors.
Brace for hard landing: “The People, edited by Neil Wallis, The Sunday Mirror, edited by Tina Weaver, and the Daily Mirror edited by Piers Morgan, ALL commissioned private investigators to target Milly Dowler and family while murdered schoolgirl was missing”. But, don’t forget, these are only claims at this stage. But very worrying claims.
Then it gets yet more tasty. “[Piers Morgan] ‘engaged or approved of’... ‘blatant’ illegal news-gathering in relation to former lover of Princess Diana, Major James Hewitt, Court hears”. The allegations note that Morgan knew details of Hewitt’s private bank account, about which he had boasted in his book The Insider. How did he come by this information?
Can it get more tasty? Have a look. “MGN board allegedly knew Sven Goran Eriksson's relationship with Ulrika Jonsson was discovered through voicemail interception by ‘infamous’ hacker James Scott, Court hears”. The previous received wisdom was that the Screws had hacked Sven and Ulrika-ka-ka-ka, and their hacks let it slip during a drinking session, perhaps to Scott, who brought the story in to the Daily Mirror. Well, well.
Any more potential damage? "Mirror Group's newspapers allegedly used private investigators Jonathan Rees, Rachel Barry, and Steve Whittamore, even though they had criminal convictions, High Court told”. Whittamore was busted as part of Operation Motorman. Rees is deeply implicated in the still-unsolved murder of Daniel Morgan.
But MGN’s barrister alleges “MGN's board knowledge and concealment of criminality on its papers cannot be argued as the matters are covered by legal professional privilege”. Good luck with that one. Meanwhile, pick the bones out of that lot. Now it’s getting serious.
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