Former editor hits back at Heather Mills in phone hacking row

LONDON: A senior British MP has called for the CNN chat-show host Piers Morgan to return to Britain to answer claims that he knew of the phone hacking of Heather Mills, the former wife of Paul McCartney. And Morgan has replied to the allegations saying that Ms Mills was considered to be a “less than impressive witness” by a judge in her divorce hearings with her former husband.
The row has broken out following claims by Ms Mills that the Daily Mirror, which Morgan edited, had hacked her voicemail when she was having a quarrel with McCartney in 2001.
Ms Mills told the BBC that she had gone to India after the row and McCartney had left her a conciliatory message. She said a journalist from Mirror Group Newspapers rang her later “and [started] quoting verbatim the messages from my machine”.
She said she responded, “You’ve obviously hacked my phone and if you do anything with this story … I’ll go to the police.”
To which the journalist allegedly replied, “OK, OK, yeah, we did hear it on your voice messages; I won’t run it.”
Morgan was editor at the time and was not the journalist who rang her. But he later wrote of having heard a message, which appeared to be the same one.
In 2006, he wrote in the Daily Mail, “At one stage I was played a tape of a message Paul had left for Heather on her mobile phone. It was heartbreaking. The couple had clearly had a tiff, Heather had fled to India, and Paul was pleading with her to come back. He sounded lonely, miserable and desperate, and even sang, ‘We can work it out’ on the answerphone.”
Ms Mills said, “There was absolutely no honest way that Piers Morgan could have obtained that tape that he has so proudly bragged about unless they had gone into my voice messages.”
Morgan has consistently denied knowing about hacking at the Mirror, which he edited from 1995 to 2004. He has now replaced Larry King as host of CNN’s chat show and is a judge on America’s Got Talent.
Morgan said the claims were unsubstantiated and that the BBC had confirmed the journalist spoken of had not worked on his paper. “I have no knowledge of any conversation any executive from other newspapers at Trinity Mirror [group] may or may not have had with Heather Mills.
“Sir Paul McCartney asserted that Heather Mills illegally intercepted his telephones and leaked confidential material to the media. This is well documented and was stated in their divorce case.
“Further, [the judge] wrote of Heather Mills, ‘I am driven to the conclusion that much of her evidence … was not just inconsistent and inaccurate but also less than candid. Overall, she was a less than impressive witness.’
“No doubt everyone will take this and other instances of somewhat extravagant claims by Ms Mills into account.”
But the Conservative MP Therese Coffey, a member of the select committee investigating hacking, said the evidence against him was “very strong” and that he should return to Britain to answer questions.
She told the BBC: “I just hope that the police take the evidence and go with it and if Mr Morgan wants to come back to the UK and help them with their inquiries – and I don’t mean being arrested in any way – I’m sure he can add more light … I think it would help everybody, including himself and this investigation, if he was able to say more about why he wrote what he did in 2006.”
A spokesman for the Mirror Group said all its journalists worked within the law and the UK Press Council’s code of conduct.

First published in the Sydney Morning Herald.