Piers Morgan Leveson

Piers Morgan told the Leveson inquiry today that it was not unethical to have listened to Heather Mills' voicemail message

Credit: Ian West/PA

Giving evidence to the Leveson inquiry this afternoon, former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan denied allegations of casual phone hacking at the tabloid during his editorship.

Appearing via video link from New York, Morgan challenged an account of the practice being used at the newspaper submitted to the inquiry by one of the tabloid's former business journalists, James Hipwell, who will give evidence tomorrow.

Hipwell, who was jailed in 2005 over the so-called "city slickers" scam, said that he had "watched journalists carrying out repeated privacy infringements" at the Mirror, including hacking, which he called a "bog-standard" technique. He first spoke out in July when he said hacking was  "endemic" at the title and was "seen as a bit of a wheeze".

Hipwell has also alleged in his Leveson inquiry statement that it was common practice for Mirror journalists to delete messages to prevent other news organisations accessing them.

Trinity Mirror, publisher of the Daily and Sunday Mirror, has consistently denied that any of its journalists have used illegal methods to gather information, calling Hipwell's allegations "totally unsubstantiated".

Morgan, who now works for US news network CNN, told the inquiry that if hacking had taken place at the Mirror he "probably" would have known about, adding that he had "no reason or knowledge to believe that it was going on".

He denied that newspaper editors would customarily ask about the source of a big story, saying he only made enquiries about where stories had come from "very occasionally" and that editors in general only knew "about 5 per cent of what their journalists are doing".

He also repeatedly refused to give the inquiry any information about the source of a voicemail he has previously admitted listening to, left by Heather Mills for her then–husband Paul McCartney, prompting Lord Leveson to say that he would call her to give evidence about whether she had authorised him to do so.

Morgan denied that listening to the tape was "unethical", claiming that "depended on the circumstances in which you were listening to it".

He was quizzed by victims' lawyer David Sherbourne about Steven Nott, a Welsh lorry driver who went to the Mirror in August 1998 offering a story about how mobile phones could be hacked.

Giving evidence to the inquiry earlier this month, Nott said that the tabloid's then-special projects editor Oona Blackman had told him that she was very interested in the story and that the MIrror had tested the voicemail interception method themselves.

But 12 days later, Blackman told him the newspaper was no longer interested. Despite the fact that no story appeared in the paper, Nott was sent a cheque for £100 a few weeks later.

Sherbourne put it to Morgan today that the Mirror dropped the story because it did not want to expose the technique, which was being used to gather information for stories.

Morgan denied the assertion, telling the inquiry that it was "nonsense" and that the story was a "complete non-event".

He said that he had watched Nott's evidence live and "studied his website", and went on to call the salesman "slightly barking" and accuse him of running a "psychopathic campaign".

The inquiry continues, with Hipwell giving evidence tomorrow.

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