Piers Morgan’s denial of phone hacking at The Mirror to be tested in court

Before this week, News International was the only media group that had been sued by phone hacking victims. On Monday it emerged that solicitor Mark Lewis had lodged civil claims on behalf of four alleged victims, not yet served, against Trinity Mirror Group (TMG), publisher of the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and the People. Overnight, TMG’s shares fell by more than 10%.

The civil actions have been launched by Sven-Goran Eriksson (former England football manager); Garry Flitcroft (former footballer); Shobna Gulati, (actor famous for roles in Coronation Street and Dinnerladies); and Abbie Gibson (former nanny to David and Victoria Beckham's children).

TMG has always denied any knowledge of phone hacking by its own staff. These new formal complaints include the time when Piers Morgan, who now hosts CNN’s Tonight program, was editor of the Daily Mirror. Morgan has also denied any knowledge of phone hacking. However, in May BBC presenter Jeremy Paxman told the Leveson Inquiry that Morgan had personally shown him how to intercept voice mail messages at a lunch in September 2002. At the same time, Morgan had teased Ulrika Jonsson about details in a private conversation with Eriksson (one of the four claimants, and with whom she was in a relationship at the time).

In December 2011, Morgan commented on his knowledge of a conversation between Paul McCartney and ex-wife Heather Mills. He declined to say how he got hold of the tapes, saying, “I am not going to do anything that may identify the source.” Heather Mills responded with “For the avoidance of doubt, I can categorically state that I have never ever played Piers Morgan a tape of any kind, never mind a voice message from my ex husband.”

UK political blogger Guido Fawkes (nothing to do with the Anonymous movement) has had a long-running and public spat with Morgan over phone hacking. He pointed out this morning, “Trinity Mirror has a market capitalisation of £163 million, the group already has a pension fund deficit estimated to be £159.5 million, almost equal to the struggling media firm’s market capitalisation. Given News International has paid out some £200 million in hacking legal costs already, the actual solvency of the firm could be in danger if claims mount up. Murdoch could afford to take the hit, Morgan’s old mates can’t…”

At the time of writing, TMG has made no public comment about the actions. This is not surprising since it had not yet been formally served with the papers.

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