- PIERS Morgan’s Daily Mirror ‘unlawfully obtained’ Sven Goran Eriksson’s and Ulrika Jonsson’s phone records before running a story on their private lives
- FINANCIAL paper trails allegedly prove the tabloid paid £745-plus-VAT for the confidential records just two days before running a front page that won it a Scoop of the Year award
- MORGAN could now be called to give evidence in a High Court trial brought by Jonsson’s former agent Melanie Cantor next May. He has previously;
- DENIED under oath to a public inquiry in 2011 knowing the story was based on hacking or illegal private investigation, as;
- MIRROR Group Newspapers failed in an extraordinary legal attempt to identify Byline Investigates’ source of documents allegedly showing its former top lawyer knew about and failed to stop newsroom crimes.
- MORGAN is believed to today earn more than any journalist in the world reporting to TalkTV chief Richard Wallace – the former Mirror “news supremo” who told Morgan first about the Sven/Ulrika story, while:
- PRINCE Harry, a major target of public criticism from Morgan, lines up with 88 claimants currently alleging a 12-year corporate cover up of criminality at Mirror Group Newspapers
By Dan Evans, Founding Editor
PIERS Morgan’s Daily Mirror illegally bought the itemised phone bills of ex-England football manager Sven Goran Eriksson and TV presenter Ulrika Jonsson just two days before running a “World Exclusive” story on their private lives, new High Court documents claim.
The emerging allegations are said to show the infamous and award-winning front-page ‘scoop’ Mr Morgan published in 2002, was based on criminal private investigations run by his senior editorial team and their hacking of Eriksson and Jonsson’s voicemails.
It is significant for Morgan – today one of the most polarising voices in world media and said to be Britain’s best-paid journalist – because he specifically denied, in evidence given under oath in December 2011 to the judge at the Leveson Inquiry into Press ethics, knowing his paper broke the law to get the story.
On whether the Daily Mirror acted illegally, Morgan told Lord Justice Leveson’s inquisitor Robert Jay QC (as he was then) bluntly: “Absolute nonsense as far as I’m concerned.”
Byline Investigates contacted Morgan, who made headlines this month with a “bombshell” interview in which footballer Cristiano Ronaldo criticised Manchester United, for comment on this story 36 hours ahead of publication. We will update this page if we hear from him.
Morgan could now be called to give evidence again, with MGN saying it will fight the phone-hacking claim of Ms Jonsson’s former agent Melanie Cantor, which contains the allegations, at a trial in the Royal Courts of Justice next May, including on the basis, it says, of expired time-limitation.
It is a major reversal from the publisher, which had been maintaining a policy of paying cases off, in doing so already vacating a previous trial date, having disastrously gone to court seven years ago to defend itself in ‘Gulati & Others vs MGN’.
That trial sparked an ongoing litigation saga that has since revealed industrial scale criminal news-gathering at the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and The People between 1998 and 2011, implicating no fewer than five editors, and has so far cost the company tens of millions of pounds.
Ms Cantor joins HRH the Duke of Sussex, newsreader Mary Nightingale, Rafferty Law, the actor son of Jude Law and Sadie Frost, the estate of the late singer George Michael and former world champion boxer Joe Calzaghe, among 88 claimants currently awaiting their day in court.
The Cantor case publicly details what is said to be a money trail connecting key Morgan staff to the commissioning of private investigation outfit Trace Direct International (TDI) – a company found by the judge in the Gulati trial to be a prolific supplier of illegal information to Fleet Street.
Invoices disclosed during the court process allegedly show TDI charged the Mirror showbiz desk £745-plus-VAT to steal and supply the private itemised phone bills of Ms Jonsson and Mr Eriksson just 48 hours before Morgan published the April 19, 2002, story under the headline: ‘Sven and Ulrika’s Secret Affair’.
In her ‘Particulars of Claim’ lodged at the High Court, Cantor sets out details of TDI invoices issued on April 17, 2002, allegedly describing “extensive” and “exhaustive” efforts to snoop on the Swedes.
It is also claimed that a further invoice was issued nine days earlier – among a total of 31 individual instructions to various private eyes to allegedly unlawfully spy on the three targets over an eight-year period – for “urgent” enquiries into Cantor herself.
Despite initial denials of wrongdoing, MGN paid Eriksson damages and costs out-of-court for hacking his phone, while Morgan made his own strong denials to the Leveson Inquiry, relying on the version of events offered in his 2005 book The Insider: The Private Diaries of a Scandalous Decade.
In December 2011, Barrister Robert Jay QC (now Mr Justice Jay) questioned Morgan on allegations his paper had illegally acquired its information on the private life of the England football manager and Ms Jonsson, a broadcaster and journalist, in the run up to the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea which ended with Quarter Finals defeat for England.
In his book, Morgan declined to identify the source for the “Sven-sational” story – attributed officially to his paper’s 3am Showbiz column and which won his paper “Scoop of the Year” at the 2003 British Press Awards – instead simply saying the “one-fact” piece was presented to him by his “news supremo” Richard Wallace who was wearing a “wicked grin”.
But Robert Jay said: “Maybe the reason for your diffidence, Mr Morgan, is that you didn’t want to set out precisely who or what the source was, because you knew that that would be a bit tricky, to put it mildly. Would you agree with that?”
Morgan, who had sworn an oath of truth on a bible, replied: “I wouldn’t agree with that, no.”
In a tense televised grilling Jay set out what he said was the true source.
Jay said: “Can I put to you, as generally as I can, the circumstances in which I suggest that you did listen to Ulrika Jonsson’s voicemail?
“A competitor of yours had hacked into [Jonsson’s] voicemail.
“There was then boasting about it in a pub and then someone told someone close to you, who let it be known to you, that this is what happened.
“And then you decided that you, in other words, the Mirror had better hack into Ulrika Jonsson’s voicemail as well, and that is precisely what happened.”
Morgan replied: “Absolute nonsense as far as I’m concerned.”
Describing the source as a confidential “tip”, Morgan said he stood by the description in his book, in which he said: “I called Ulrika’s agent Melanie Cantor and just put it to her straight… Melanie danced around the houses for a few minutes before ascertaining that we clearly did know everything and that it was all coming out.
“She said she’d talk to Ulrika and call me back, which she did half an hour later.”
Jay also asked whether, when Jonsson was a guest at an MGN lunch event in September 2002, Morgan had teased her – per the evidence of fellow lunch attendee, the veteran BBC man Jeremy Paxman – on the subject of her voicemail messages, with Morgan alleged to have mimicked her Swedish accent, before allegedly advising her to change her voicemail pin number.
The former tabloid editor said he could not recall the episode.
Lord Justice Leveson later described some of Morgan’s evidence regarding knowledge of hacking more generally on Fleet Street as “utterly unpersuasive”.
Cantor takes aim at Morgan in her court documents alongside Tina Weaver, the former Editor of the Sunday Mirror appointed when Morgan was made de facto Editor in Chief of both Mirror titles in April 2001, in what he said at the time was a “great day for cocky little chancers”.
Cantor described a relationship of professional trust she believed she had with both editors, adding that at the time of the Leveson Inquiry she believed the emphatic denials of both of knowledge of wrongdoing on their newspapers.
In a sworn statement of truth, due to be tested at trial next May, Ms Cantor said: “Trust was vital to the job so good relationships were nurtured where possible.
“Some of these people went on to be Editors, including Tina Weaver and Piers Morgan, which I considered an asset.
“I worked closely with these people often on difficult and personal stories where trust was vital. As such, I never questioned or suspected their source.”
Cantor said her bond with Weaver was such that she had been to her home and even attended her 40th birthday party.
She said: “I could not have worked with these people in the same way, if I had known what was going on.
“I thought they respected their relationship with me in the way I respected mine with them.
“Never would I have imagined they were capable of betraying me in such a duplicitous manner.”
Cantor added that she had initially believed the editors’ evidence to the Leveson Inquiry.
She said: “I would like to have thought that they would have told the truth before a judge, particularly given the weight of the Inquiry itself.
“I now understand that Ms Weaver was instrumental in phone hacking.
“I was genuinely shocked and upset when I discovered that she had played a role in targeting me and my associates, as I understandably believed that because of our friendship my privacy would have been respected.”
She went on: “The existence of incriminating call data linking Tina Weaver to my being hacked sickened me in light of our supposed friendship.”
Both Weaver and Richard Wallace – who was appointed her Deputy Editor at the Sunday Mirror in 2003 before he succeeded Morgan as Daily Mirror editor in 2004 when Morgan was fired for publishing faked pictures falsely portraying British troops abusing prisoners in Iraq – were sacked in May 2012, after many years’ service, on the pretext that MGN wished to merge the titles into a seven-day operation.
They were then both arrested and interviewed under caution in March 2013 by police investigating phone hacking but after two years’ investigation were never charged with any offences, in a decision criticised as “outrageous”, given the wealth of evidence in the Gulati judgment.
The pair were found to have been involved in hacking at MGN in the so called Gulati judgment in 2015 when eight claimants – including actresses Shobna Gulati, Lucy Benjamin, and Sadie Frost, actor Shane Ritchie, BBC executive Alan Yentob and footballer Paul Gascoigne – won their cases against MGN.
Wallace, who married Weaver at Aynhoe Park, Oxon, in June 2016, is today Morgan’s boss at Rupert Murdoch’s TalkTV, which is overseen by News UK Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks, who was herself acquitted of phone hacking and police corruption charges in an Old Bailey trial in 2014.
Byline Investigates asked Wallace and Weaver to comment on this story 36 hours before publication and will update it if we hear back from them.
Cantor’s case also alleges that the Mirror Group Board of Directors fraudulently concealed its knowledge of endemic criminality within the business, and that its top lawyers Marcus Partington and Paul Vickers were instrumental in a cover up.
If there is a finding that the board has misled investors it could be a costly mistake for MGN to go to trial, as it could open them up to claims from shareholders, and potentially an investigation by regulators into possible market manipulation.
Byline Investigates can today further report that an unnamed lawyer is subject to an investigation by the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority and that MGN took steps at a hearing on November 1 to keep the name of the individual out of public court proceedings.
It comes after we told in July how former Group Legal Director Mr Partington allegedly advised MGN to settle an employment tribunal with a former reporter who threatened to reveal criminal newsroom activity as the company was “over a barrel”.
In a further twist, earlier this month Judge Mr Justice Fancourt denied MGN leave to seek the identity of the source of the court document behind our story, which was in fact placed on the public record, apparently in error, by MGN’s own external lawyers Reynolds Porter Chamberlain (RPC).
Morgan is today said to be earning £50m from a three-year contract with News UK which sees him present a weeknight show “Piers Morgan Uncensored” and write a column for The Sun, the Mirror’s traditional newsstand rival, making him the UK’s best paid journalist.
Morgan’s tenure at the Mirror between 1995 and 2004 coincided with the flourishing of use of illegal private investigations and phone hacking at the paper. Between 2000 and 2007, MGN admitted spending £2.25m on some 13,500 PI instructions saying a “substantial” number of these were likely to be unlawful.
One of the PI firms regularly used by MGN was Southern Investigations, which was connected to the killing of Daniel Morgan, a partner in the business whose death remains Britain’s most investigated unsolved murder.
Up to 41 MGN journalists were alleged to have been actively hacking phones, although Morgan told the inquiry he only “very occasionally” asked about the sources of the stories he ran as editor, and there is no suggestion that his evidence to the inquiry was untrue.
He did however claim to take “a keen interest in everything the paper was doing”, adding of his showbiz desk that he “liked them”, and that “they were very good at their jobs”.
The judge in the Mirror litigation described the wrongdoing at MGN – in a finding upheld by the Court of Appeal – as “widespread, habitual and institutionalised” by mid-1999, raising questions over whether Morgan performed his duties as Editor competently.
The Leveson Inquiry also heard evidence from former Mirror journalist James Hipwell in which he described hacking on the showbiz desk as a “bog standard tool” for getting stories.
He said: “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.
“The openness and frequency of their hacking activities gave me the impression that hacking was considered a bog-standard journalistic tool for gathering information.
“For example, I would, on occasion, hear two or more members of the showbusiness team discussing what they had heard on voicemails openly across their desks.
“One of the reporters showed me the technique, giving me a demonstration of how to hack into voicemails.”
The truth of the allegations contained in Melanie Cantor’s claim for misuse of private information will be determined at the High Court in London in May 2023.
Weaver, Wallace and Morgan have all previously denied what has been alleged about them and MGN disputes the case, which is continuing.
- Transparency statement: The author of this article was trained to hack phones by Mirror Group Newspapers and became a whistle-blower in 2012, leading to the setting up of the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Golding investigation into the company. He also appeared in the witness box for the victims in 2015. Judge Mr Justice Mann described him as a clear witness and accepted his evidence in full.