Phone hacking 'bog-standard tool' - ex-Mirror reporter

James Hipwell: "Very unlikely Piers Morgan did not know hacking was going on".

Phone hacking appeared to be a "bog-standard journalistic tool" for gathering information, a former Daily Mirror financial reporter has said.

James Hipwell, who was jailed in 2006 for writing about firms whose shares he owned, said he witnessed repeated privacy infringements at the paper.

He told the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics that he overheard showbiz journalists openly talking about it.

Publisher Trinity Mirror has insisted its journalists work within the law.

It has also said they work within the Press Complaints Commission's (PCC) code of conduct.

Meanwhile, Heather Mills, the former wife of singer Sir Paul McCartney, has said in a statement that she never disclosed private voicemail messages from her ex-husband to former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan.

It comes after the former tabloid editor, now an interviewer for American broadcaster CNN, told the inquiry on Tuesday he had listened to a voicemail message left to her by Sir Paul.

Mr Morgan, who firmly denied any knowledge of hacking under his editorship, refused to say when or where he had heard the message - because he wanted to protect "a source". He said he had no reason to believe phone hacking was going on.

Ms Mills said she would be "more than happy" to answer any questions the inquiry had for her about the subject.

CNN said it was "seeking a response to the Mills statement from Morgan".

'Privacy infringements'

On Wednesday, Mr Hipwell told the inquiry he had never been given a copy of the code during his time at the paper, under Mr Morgan's editorship.

He said he never heard reference to the code, and said there were no visible signs of ethical leadership.

In a statement read to the inquiry, he stated: "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.

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Flanagan at #leveson: would take a brave reporter to say he wasn't sure about this, not filing a story today”

End Quote Ross Hawkins BBC correspondent

"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 Hipwell said he sat next to the showbiz team, where hacking took place daily.

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

"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."

He described Mr Morgan as "very hands-on" and the "beating heart" of the newspaper, and said the editor spent half an hour every day discussing the showbiz reporters' stories.

"Showbusiness is very close to his heart... and a lot of people who had worked on the showbusiness desk had come from the Sun and they were old friends," he said.

"Nothing really happened on that desk without Piers knowing about it."

On one occasion in 2000, Mr Hipwell said he saw a journalist openly hack into Mr Morgan's phone.

"I don't think it elicited a great deal of information, but he certainly tried," he said.

David Pilditch Mr Pilditch said reporting on the disappearance of Madeleine McCann was "unsatisfactory"

Mr Hipwell said he did not report that he had witnessed hacking because senior editors accepted it.

He added that it was "very unlikely" Mr Morgan did not know that Mirror journalists were hacking.

Mr Hipwell was jailed for purchasing low-priced stocks and then recommending them to readers in the paper's City Slickers column, selling them as their values soared.

'Formal suspects'

He received a six-month prison sentence in February 2006 for pocketing nearly £41,000.

Later, the inquiry heard from journalists covering the disappearance of Madeleine McCann from Portugal at the time her parents Kate and Gerry became "arguidos" - or formal suspects.

Daily Express journalist David Pilditch said it had been difficult to cover the story because it was illegal for Portuguese police to talk about the case, and he had to rely on sources.

Two of these were Portuguese journalists in contact with the police, while a third was a translator who worked for police, he said.

Padraic Flanagan Considerations of the law were left to his superiors, Express reporter Padraic Flanagan said

He said it had been a "ludicrous state of affairs" and although he was "confident of the veracity of the reports" he wrote, it made him feel "uncomfortable".

"I knew... there were going to be difficulties if any complaints were made because they weren't publicly declared statements," he said.

The Express newsdesk was well aware of the "fragility" of the situation, he added.

Some of the articles that appeared in the paper falsely alleged the McCanns were responsible for their daughter's death.

In March 2008, it led to Express Newspapers paying the couple £550,000 in libel damages and printing front-page apologies to the McCanns.

The McCanns told the inquiry last month that newspaper suggestions they were responsible had left them distraught.

Later, another Express journalist, Padraic Flanagan, told the inquiry: "Working in Portugal, the first question you asked yourself wasn't 'Can I stand this up?'; it was 'What can I find today?'"

He said "considerations of the law" were left to his superiors.

And former Express reporter Nick Fagge said the story had become an "obsession" of the editor.

"The editor of the time decided it was the only story he was interested in and put it on the front page regardless of how strong the story was," he said.

The inquiry was later adjourned until 9 January.

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