Piers Morgan
Piers Morgan insisted to the Leveson Inquiry into press standards that he knew nothing about alleged phone hacking at the Daily Mirror, which he edited. REUTERS/Fred Prouser Reuters

An evasive and uncomfortable Piers Morgan tried to deflect allegations that he knew about phone hacking while he was editor of the Daily Mirror, as he gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry into press standards.

Robert Jay QC, counsel to the inquiry, pressed Morgan on several comments he has made about phone hacking in the past few years, as well as extracts from his auto-biography The Insider.

When asked categorically if he knew phone hacking was going on while he was editing the Daily Mirror, Morgan said: "I don't believe so. To the best of my recollection, I don't believe so."

On several occasions, including in a 2007 Press Gazette article and a GQ article where he was interviewed by supermodel Naomi Campbell in the same year, Morgan mentioned the "widespread" nature of phone hacking, claiming that most national newspapers were using the illegal practise.

Jay asked Morgan, who was appearing from America by video link, exactly what he knew.

Morgan was cagey, insisting they were "rumours" and that he had "no hard evidence" to substantiate what he was saying.

A frustrated Jay told Morgan that the Daily Mirror was "near the top of the list" when it came to using questionable techniques and that he wasn't revealing to the inquiry all that he knows about what went on.

"Not a single person has made a formal or legal complaint against the Daily Mirror for phone hacking," Morgan hit back.

Listening to Heather Mills's Voicemail

At one point Morgan's defence crumbled, as he was pushed on once admitting that he had been played a recording of a message left on former Beatle Paul McCartney's ex-wife Heather Mills.

Morgan refused to reveal who played him the tape, saying that under the rules of the inquiry he didn't have to reveal the source of any of his stories.

Jay said that it was unethical to listen to the voicemails. Morgan disagreed.

Lord Justice Leveson, leading the inquiry, intervened and told Morgan that, unless he had permission from Mills to listen to the message, it had been unlawful to do so.

"Possibly," replied Morgan.

Leveson said if necessary he would call Mills to give evidence on whether she had given permission for anyone other than her to listen to the message.

Morgan insisted Mills had released the recording to the media.

Mills told the BBC back in August: "There was absolutely no honest way that Piers Morgan could have obtained that tape that he has so proudly bragged about unless they had gone into my voice messages."

'I Only Knew About Five Per Cent of what my Journalists were up to'

"My evidence is that I have no knowledge or reason to believe it was going on," said Morgan as he was pressed to clarify what he knew about alleged phone hacking and his journalists' use of private investigators.

Jay cited a 2006 report by the Information Commissioner's Office, where over forty Daily Mirror journalists were highlighted as having engaged in "unlawful transactions" with a private investigator, in order to obtain ex-directory phone numbers, DVLA records, and other information.

"I reckon the average editor is aware of about five per cent of what his journalists are up to at any particular time," said Morgan, adding that most of the responsibility for signing invoices and handling reporters fell to the section editors.

"I'm not aware of any of the specifics, but I'm also not aware that any of those journalists were arrested or charged with anything," said a tetchy Morgan.

"None of this has ever been proven."