Phone hacking authorised at highest level of Mirror publisher, court hears

Unlawful information gathering was authorised “at the highest levels” at the publisher of The Mirror as a lawyer claimed senior figures authorised private investigator payments “in their millions”, the High Court has been told.

Prince Harry is among several high-profile figures who are bringing claims against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) over alleged unlawful information gathering at its titles.

Claims brought by four individuals are being heard in a trial as “representative” cases of the types of allegations facing the publisher – including voicemail interception, securing information through deception and hiring private investigators for unlawful activities.

MGN – publisher of titles The Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People – is contesting the cases and has also said there is “no evidence, or no sufficient evidence, of voicemail interception in any of these four claims”.

David Sherborne, barrister for the Duke of Sussex and others bringing damages claims against MGN, claimed that senior figures authorised private investigator payments “in their millions”.

In written arguments, he claimed “the systemic and widespread use” of private investigators by MGN journalists to “unlawfully obtain private information was authorised at senior levels”, including desk heads, editors, managing editors and senior executives.

On the second day of the case on Thursday, Mr Sherborne said one of the “most seriously troubling features” of their cases was the allegation that those responsible for management and finances of the company “were well aware of what was going on”.

In written submissions, Mr Sherborne said it is “inconceivable that this information, which was readily available on MGN’s system, was not known by the editors, Piers Morgan, Tina Weaver and Mark Thomas, the managing editors, and the legal department… and the board”.

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“Despite that, neither the legal department nor the board took any action to prevent the continued use of such techniques by MGN journalists,” he added.

Representing the publisher, Andrew Green KC said in written submissions that the claimants had made “serious allegations” of dishonesty with legal arguments that “are far from adequate”.

He continued: “The claimants have not provided any direct evidence of a member of the board or legal department making a false or dishonest statement.

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Mr Green said: “There is no attempt to confine the allegations to specific board members or time periods.”

He added that “scattergun allegations are apparently made against every member of the board serving over 20 years, and no clear or specific inferential basis is particularised”.

Mr Green said MGN’s legal department “generally did not know about journalists’ sources but rather its lawyers were consulted where journalists considered it necessary”.

MGN titles allegedly spent nearly £11m on private investigators

On Wednesday, in a document provided to the court by lawyers of the claimants, they allege that between 1995 and 2011, MGN titles spent nearly £11m on private investigators.

In 2005, MGN allegedly spent £1.3m on private investigator services at its titles.

However, Mr Green said in written submissions that in a previous document, the claimants “allege that £9.7m was spent on PIs between 1996 and 2011, a 15-year period”.

He continued: “MGN denies both that £9.7m was spent on PIs during that period, and that it was engaged in an aggressive cost-cutting exercise; but in any event, the total annual turnover for the Trinity Mirror Group exceeded £1bn at that time, such that the sum was insignificant in relative terms.”

The lawsuit alleges that unlawful information was gathered on behalf of MGN journalists between 1996 and 2011.

MGN has contested the claims and argues that some have been brought too late. Mirror Group has previously accepted that phone hacking took place at its titles, and paid hundreds of millions of pounds in settlements to victims.

Mr Morgan, who was The Daily Mirror’s editor between 1995 and 2004, has previously denied involvement in phone hacking.

At the start of the case, an MGN spokesperson said: “Where historical wrongdoing has taken place we have made admissions, take full responsibility and apologise unreservedly, but we will vigorously defend against allegations of wrongdoing where our journalists acted lawfully.”