Morgan…”never knowingly used phone-hack stories”

Will Sir Paul now blow Morgan’s defence out of  the water?

Unlikely that the CNN anchor can survive in his post

The Slog having last weekend dubbed Piers Morgan’s former tabloid modus operandi ‘Hackmates’, the trend continued last night as former Paul McCartney wife Heather Mills told BBC2’s Newsnight programme that her phone had been hacked by a Mirror journalist during her courtship with the Beatle, that the hack concerned had admitted it, and that the hacking took place while CNN anchor Morgan was editing the Mirror.

But crucially, the account of the hacked voicemail message is almost a verbatim version of that mentioned by Piers Morgan in his now much-thumbed book, The Insider. This effectively blows away the Morgan ‘never knowingly’ get-out on using stories based on phone hacking. The imputation is very clear: having admitted to playing the tape (and myriad accounts relating an office party at which Morgan jokingly referred to the tape of Sir Paul singing) Morgan must have known about its provenance.

However, the fact that Mills threatened to call the police if the Mirror ran the story means it was never published. So Morgan’s ‘used’ part of the last defence line is theoretically intact. Except that (1) non-use was not his decision; and (2) knowing the phones of two major celebrities had been hacked, he did nothing about it…..more precisely, he joked about it.

But there is more. The Slog has learned that in fact Heather Mills (for probably perfectly honourable reasons) has chosen not to give a full account of the couple’s total experience of having their phones hacked. There is a passage in The Insider where Morgan begins ‘my old friend Paul’ etc etc, and then relates a conversation in which McCartney has asked him to kill another story – this time based on a row in a restaurant. In fact, this is not a true reflection of what took place. The ball is thus now in Sir Paul’s court if he wants to come clean on the event. Suffice to say that this story too was based on a phone hack….although probably by another tabloid. His office has so far declined to comment on the incident.

Nancy Dell’alio also confirmed to Newsnight she was sure the Mirror hacked her phone when Piers Morgan was editor. Rio Ferdinand and TV presenter Ulrika Jonsson also believe they were hacked by the Mirror group, and Ferdinand in particular has expressed interest in suing MGN on the basis of this.

Last night, MGN stayed with its unchanged defence of how its journalists ‘act within the law’, a defence that is no defence at all as it is in the present tense, and these events refer to the past. The Slog strongly suspects that Operation Weeting will be ignoring these repetitions. Morgan himself issued another denial under CNN’s auspices, but it was considerably less bullish than his previous statements: this time he called the Mills story ‘unsubstantiated’….but not ‘untrue’.

The problem for the Grime Parson in all this is that, unlike Newscorp – where the top management stood by (and paid off) their villains to keep a culture of criminality secret – there is absolutely no advantage for CNN in having any of this ordure rub off on them. As The Slog revealed exclusively earlier in the week, CNN Executive Vice President Richard Davis already has severe doubts about Piers Morgan. The ‘accident’ that some top CNN suits always feared appears to have happened.

The bottom line is that full and final proof of guilt or innocence is no longer the issue in Atlanta. They have a brand image as a news corporation to think about: and in corporate America, that always comes first.

Related: The strange case of Louise Mensch’s untraceable blackmailers