Disclosure note: The following story contains a reference to a tape-recording of a conversation that took place between former Trinity Mirror Chairman David Grigson and former Sunday Mirror journalist Graham Johnson, who provided evidence for the Claimants in the case reported below. Graham Johnson is also the Head of Investigations at byline.com and bylineinvestigates.com.
A MIRROR Group Newspapers Plc (MGN) board member allegedly knew about phone hacking, according to court documents.
Byline Investigates revealed in Part 1 of this story, how The Mirror’s top lawyer Marcus Partington was allegedly aware of voicemail interception.
Mr. Partington denies the allegation – but neither he nor his company Reach PLC would comment to Byline on that story, or this one.
However, our journalists can now report that his former boss and board director Paul Vickers has also been named in TWO court hearings.
The first occasion was in January 2019, when the Mirror was fighting to prevent the use of a tape transcript which named Vickers, along with Partington, in connection with allegations (which they deny) that they knew about, and concealed, unlawful newsgathering techniques for many years.
The second occasion was more recently, on Thursday May 23rd – about which Byline Investigates published two court reports – during which it was alleged that Vickers knew about the Mirror’s use of unlawful information gathering.
In addition, the lawyer, a powerful libel and privacy expert, was accused of making an ‘untrue’ statement to the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the Press..
In the High Court judgment from the January hearing, Mr Justice Norris refers to allegations that at least one former Trinity Mirror board member, Paul Vickers – along with Partington – knew about phone hacking ‘at the time it was going on’.
It was alleged that Vickers had been aware of phone hacking claims made by a former People reporter called David Brown, and had covered them up.
Brown blew the whistle on widespread use of voicemail interception at the People, in an Employment Tribunal witness statement, after he claimed he was unfairly sacked in 2006.
Ex-Legal Director Paul Vickers is alleged to have discussed Brown’s phone hacking allegations with Marcus Partington in 2007 – and former Chief Executive Sly Bailey was allegedly told about the subsequent out of court settlement and gagging clause.
They then allegedly covered-up the criminal activities for a further seven years.
Mr. Vickers has had a glittering career in media law, working at The Mirror for 22 years between 1992 and 2014, where he rose to become company secretary and Group Legal Director of parent company Trinity Mirror PLC.
His service spanned the glory years of Piers Morgan’s editorship, bumper profits and aggressive regional expansion.
However, there is a parallel story, which is more complicated because it reflects the twists and turns of the Mirror’s phone hacking history – and the complex litigation that has followed.
In 2011 and 2012, a stream of Mirror executives, past and present, including Paul Vickers told the Leveson Inquiry that they were not aware of phone hacking and of illegal newsgathering at the company’s titles.
Mr. Vickers told the inquiry into press ethics and culture, that there was no unlawful information gathering techniques at the Mirror, after he and fellow executives submitted hundreds of pages of redacted documents to the public inquiry.
In January 2012, Sly Bailey – the then chief executive of Trinity Mirror – told the Leveson Inquiry that she stood by her decision not to investigate phone hacking, stating that there was ‘no evidence’ of wrongdoing.
‘I don’t think it is the way to run a healthy organisation,’ Ms. Bailey said on oath, ‘to go around conducting investigations when there’s no evidence to say our journalists have hacked phones.’
Giving wrong or distorted evidence to a Public Inquiry is a criminal offence under the Inquiries Act, punishable by a jail term, and is considered easier to ‘prove’ than perjury because the evidence does not have to ‘material’ to the case in question.
As more allegations surfaced, the company made hundreds of denials over the next couple of years, in the course of press reports, select committee inquiries, police investigations and dozens of civil claims .
Finally, in late summer 2014, the company suddenly admitted to phone hacking and apologised.
In a landmark 2015 civil trial judgment, the Hon. Justice Mann found by at least 1999, editors and journalists across the Group’s three national titles – The Daily Mirror, The Sunday Mirror and The People – used phone hacking to routinely stand-up stories.
The Mirror Group have formally accepted these findings.
Hundreds of victims have since launched breach of privacy civil cases and most have been paid damages in out of court settlements.
In the latest “case management” hearing of the third wave of Mirror hacking litigation on May 23rdand 24ththis year, lawyers for claimants, including John Leslie and Chantelle Houghton, alleged that Paul Vickers knew that the statement he made to Leveson Inquiry was ‘untrue,’, was central to a cover-up and was ‘plainly not telling the truth.’
Counsel for the claimants David Sherborne told Mr. Justice Mann: ‘He (Mr. Vickers) said that there was no unlawful information -gathering techniques employed by Mirror Group Newspapers, and Mr Vickers’ name, as you know, is one of the senior individuals.
‘He was not only a director on the board of Mirror Group Newspapers, but he was also in effect the head of the legal department, the person to whom Mr Partington reported and in respect of whom there were “no surprises”.
‘He is the person who provided this material (to the Leveson Inquiry). He saw it unredacted, and therefore he would have known at the time that his statements about unlawful information-gathering techniques were untrue.’
However, lawyers for the Mirror Group said the submissions to the Leveson Inquiry about private investigators made it ‘public knowledge’ and that there was therefore ‘nothing secret about that admission in the Leveson Inquiry.’ The Claimants’ legal team pointed out that these submissions had not been made publicly, and Byline has not been able to find any record of them – redacted or otherwise – on the Leveson Inquiry or elsewhere
Mr. Richard Spearman QC said there was ‘nothing sinister’ about ‘a later admission by the Mirror to using four private investigators.’
Mr. Spearman also reminded the court that private investigators could be used for lawful checks.
He said: ‘And there’s plenty of use of private investigators which is not unlawful, that’s absolutely obvious…there’s plenty of use of private investigators that is not unlawful.’
But Mr. Sherborne said there was board level knowledge and concealment of unlawful activity.
He said : ‘…what [the document submitted to Leveson] shows is that the board, Mr Vickers certainly, was well aware of the large number of private investigators that were being used, the payments, and therefore, we say, it’s quite inexplicable that he could say, as he did to the inquiry, that there was no evidence of any unlawful information-gathering techniques employed by Mirror Group, bearing in mind that your Lordship will remember at the inquiry that was the trenchant position of Mirror Group – [that] these activities did not take place.’
However, in legal documents The Mirror said that the allegations against the legal department were unsustainable and the cases inconsistent and their pursuit raises ‘fundamental problems’
Mr. Vickers’ career has continued to flourish. By 2014, he was appointed to Chair the press industry working group that set up to press self-regulator IPSO, as a way of rejecting the Leveson Report.
Then, after working as Editorial Legal Director at The Telegraph, Mr. Vickers became a consultant, before moving to his latest post at the Dublin-based Independent News and Media, as Chief Legal Officer for the past year.
Byline Investigates has reached out to both Mr. Vickers and Ms. Bailey for comment – and to the companies which they work for now, however to date, no response has been received.
END OF PART TWO
MORE FOLLOWS IN PART 3