- FORMER Daily Mirror editor Morgan has been accused over burglary at home of Major James Hewitt
- MIRROR board allegedly knew of the plot – because top legal adviser was also a company director
- CLAIMANTS suing the Mirror now allege the board engaged in fraudulent concealment of criminality
- MIRROR Group has yet to respond to the allegations; Byline Investigates will report on their defence when it’s filed at the High Court
- NEITHER Piers Morgan nor his new bosses at ITV are commenting on the allegations
- MORE Morgan allegations to follow in PART TWO of this exclusive report
PIERS Morgan has been implicated in an extraordinary plot to steal 62 private letters written by Diana, Princess of Wales, explosive High Court documents seen by Byline Investigates reveal.
The allegations – which are now likely to form part of her son Prince Harry’s own phone hacking court action against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) – relate to the 54-year-old Good Morning Britain host’s time as editor of the Daily Mirror newspaper.
They tell how the private letters of Major James Hewitt, with whom the Princess had a relationship between 1986 and 1991, were allegedly stolen from his home in a plan overseen by Mr Morgan’s Daily Mirror in 1998.
A skeleton argument deployed last week in the long running MGN phone hacking litigation reads: “Mr Hewitt… was the target of a campaign of vilification against him. This campaign involved commissioning his former lover to steal letters from Princess Diana.”
Mr Morgan, who is now one of ITV’s top hosts, fronting Good Morning Britain, as well as writing a column for the Mail on Sunday, was interviewed by police at the time about the burglary, accompanied by MGN’s lawyers, whose representation, it is alleged, showed the MGN board of directors knew of the possibility of criminality at their paper.
This is because Paul Vickers, the head of MGN’s legal department at the time, was also a director of the company’s board, with responsibilities to shareholders to ensure the lawfulness of his company’s activities.
The skeleton argument goes on: “The claimants also rely on Mr Morgan’s interview by police in relation to the theft of Mr Hewitt’s correspondence with Princess Diana by a former partner, and the fact that Mr Morgan was accompanied by a member of MGN’s Legal Department, who must have known or investigated the Daily Mirror’s involvement with and work relating to Mr Hewitt.”
For its part, MGN has yet to respond to the allegations – detailed in a ‘generic case’ alleging the board ‘fraudulently concealed’ its knowledge of lawbreaking – being made by many of the 71 claimants (of which James Hewitt is one) currently suing MGN for ‘Unlawful Information Gathering’, but may do so at a further hearing, at the Rolls Building in London, in December.
Mr Morgan and MGN’s parent company Reach PLC declined to comment to questions from Byline Investigates about this story.
The case continues…
ANATOMY OF A REVERSE FERRETTI
OR HOW PIERS’S MIRROR ‘INCITED A BURGLARY’ AND (NEARLY) GOT AWAY WITH IT: A BYLINE INVESTIGATION
IT HAPPENED just eight months after the car Diana was travelling in crashed in a Paris subway while chased by paparazzi – and while Britain was still deep in mourning for its ‘People’s Princess’.
Anna Ferretti entered the Devon home of her then lover, Major James Hewitt, with her sister at her side – and a sensational and potentially lucrative heist on her mind.
While Italian socialite Ms Ferretti kept the housekeeper talking, her sister Lucia was targeting James Hewitt’s safe, from which were taken 62 private letters written to him by Diana, Princess of Wales, many sent while he was serving with the British army as a tank commander in the Gulf in 1991.
Ms Ferretti, it later emerged, was motivated by vengeance as well as money. She considered herself a woman scorned, and was betraying Major Hewitt because she had been shown – by journalists from the Mirror – photographs of him apparently with another woman.
What she was not told, however, was that the ‘other woman’ was none other than the Mirror’s own reporter Carol Aye Maung – and that the images were secretly taken by the paper with the intention of setting James Hewitt up.
Angry, Ms Ferretti hatched a plan to steal the letters and sell them to her new allies at the Mirror, whose staff even physically twice drove her to Bratton Clovelly, Devon, where the burglary took place in March 1998.
And within days of the theft, the Mirror had indeed published parts of the letters, with the full front page headline: DIANA LOVE LETTERS SCANDAL EXPOSED BY MIRROR.
However, Ms Ferretti did not receive the £150,000 she negotiated for the sale. Put simply, she was double crossed.
Confronted with the difficult legal reality of trying to publish letters it knew to be stolen, and the copyright of which it had no entitlement to reproduce, insiders have told Byline Investigates that the Mirror performed what is known on Fleet Street as a ‘reverse ferret’.
With little alternative but to try and justify its behaviour, the Mirror became, seemingly, stricken by the need to do the right thing, and handed the Major’s property to Royal officials at Kensington Palace in the ‘public interest’.
Notably, in its article, the Mirror took great care to disguise the manner in which the letters were acquired.
Provocative words like “theft” and “burglary” were substituted for neutral phrases, such as Ms Ferretti “walked off” with the letters, which had been “plucked from” Major Hewitt’s safe.
It also went on the offensive toward James Hewitt himself, attacking him as “despicable” on the day of publication in an editorial leader in what, sources now suggest, was an act of misdirection designed to create a convenient moral defence for the Mirror’s own involvement in the crime of theft.
While the Mirror was insisting: “We acted in the public interest. And to protect Diana’s memory,” James Hewitt wrote in his book: “In the history of dirty tricks they didn’t come much dirtier than this. And for the Mirror to confess their involvement in an organised crime seemed madness.”
Piers Morgan gave his own partial account of the incident in his 2005 diary The Insider.
“There was no way we could ever publish them,” he admitted, adding: “We set up a trap in which we promised Ferretti £150,000 if she handed over all the letters. She was greedy and eager and went back to get them all from the safe.”
Mr Morgan went on: “Obviously we had a read of them before we sent them back. I mean, what human being wouldn’t have?”
But still, the paper faced a big problem over the way it had acquired the pale blue, sealable Airmail letters, inked in Diana’s distinctive looped handwriting, in the first place.
The role of Piers Morgan’s journalists in the incident was integral – unknown to its readers, Mirror journalists ‘babysat’ Ms Ferretti in a hotel, while she kept them updated on, and then executed, the burglary plot.
The paper even gave her £1,000 spending money while it removed the letters from her possession and considered its next steps.
In his memoir, “Moving On” Mr Hewitt suspected the Mirror also paid for Ms Ferretti’s flights from Monaco, claiming it had effectively “admitted aiding and abetting the burglary” as well as “stealing” his property.
The Mirror’s move to publicly explain its actions may have provided a convenient narrative for its audience, but after receiving reports of the theft, Devon constabulary and the Metropolitan Police had to act.
Ms Ferretti was arrested and questioned and required to surrender her passport as she was considered a flight risk, while the Mirror’s then editor Piers Stefan Pughe-Morgan, was also deemed a person of interest to police, and interviewed under caution in the presence of the paper’s top lawyer Martin Cruddace.
In the end, no charges were forthcoming because – James Hewitt wrote in his memoir Moving On – the letters would have embarrassed the Royal Family if they became public exhibits during the course of a criminal trial – a fact the Mirror wrote about extensively in its pages.
James Hewitt said in his book: “A lawyer friend had warned me that the Mirror, having been wrong-footed by Anna’s arrest, would now do everything to stop the case going to court. He was right.”
Legally, the letters themselves were the Major’s, and in an effort to reclaim his property, he spent months in legal exchanges with Kensington Palace, eventually issuing a High Court writ to secure their return.
Major Hewitt complained in his book: “The letters were stolen goods – nobody seems to dispute that – yet the Metropolitan Police were content to leave them at Kensington Palace.”
Byline Investigates understands, from sources familiar with the case, that it was during this period of protracted wrangling with Diana’s estate, and the Metropolitan Police, that members of the Mirror board, company officers, and senior lawyers were becoming increasingly familiar with their paper’s involvement in the illegal sourcing of the letters.
A source close to the story told Byline Investigates: “One of the more astonishing aspects of this affair, is how Ms Ferretti came to be represented by a firm of top lawyers called Kingsley Napley.
“At the time, she had no money and she was arrested leaving the country about to get on the train. How was she able to afford these lawyers?
“It’s suspected that someone else, close to this, funded her expensive representation.”