So how much, exactly, did Piers Morgan know about phone hacking when he was editor of the Daily Mirror? It depends when you ask him. And since he edited the newspaper for nine years when hacking was at its zenith, and since other people similarly accused have spent time in prison, this seems important for reasons that do not depend on your feelings about Prince Harry.
On Friday, for example, Morgan had a simple line for reporters gathered outside his house. Perhaps his thinking had been clarified by the unfortunate news that a judge ruling on claims from Harry and others had found that there had been extensive hacking going on at the Daily Mirror, and that there was no doubt Morgan knew about it. Similar evidence has been presented to the Leveson inquiry and in previous litigation, but never as extensively or with such a powerful endorsement from a judge as this. But it’s all nonsense, Morgan sputtered, who would do such a thing? “I’ve never hacked a phone, or told anybody else to hack a phone,” he said. Simple.
As he also said, this is a line he’s maintained for a long time. You would be amazed at how carefully he has maintained it. He used exactly the same words to the BBC in September. He used exactly the same words to the BBC in May. He used exactly the same words on Twitter (now X) in 2015. He used exactly the same words to the Guardian in 2014. He used exactly the same words on CNN in 2011. Ask Piers Morgan what his favourite biscuit is at any point in the last 15 years and the response is likely to have been that he never hacked a phone, and he never told anyone else to, either.
If you view the narrow precision of Morgan’s repetition as interesting, you will probably go looking for other things he’s said about phone hacking. And you will find a laundry list of public statements from a bygone era that don’t exactly contradict his later recitations, but do cast them in a different light. In 2003, he told Charlotte Church that she should change the security number on her phone to stop reporters from accessing her voicemails. In 2006, he wrote that he had been “played a tape of a message Paul [McCartney] had left for Heather [Mills] on her mobile phone”. In 2007, he told Press Gazette that hacking was “an investigative practice that everyone knows was going on”.
What are we to make of this change of emphasis? If we take him at his word, we will have to conclude that Morgan knew absolutely loads about phone hacking, but had absolutely nothing to do with commissioning it. You might wonder if there was any need to tell the voicemail interception specialists used by the Mirror to hack a phone, and reflect that when you get the plumber round because your sink is blocked, you don’t need to encourage him to bring a plunger.