Shifty Piers pays the price for his past mouthing-off

Will Paul McCartney now go to the police about the voicemail hack incident?

In a sharp and well-briefed interrogation by Robert Jay QC at the Leveson Inquiry this afternoon, Piers Morgan appeared to contradict himself several times, and ultimately was forced to fall back on evasiveness – “I don’t recall”, “I don’t believe so”, “I don’t remember saying that” and so forth. Trying to kick off by setting up a cocky debate with Jay, Morgan had to be rebuked twice by Leveson himself.

Morgan, faced with having said in the past “hacking is a bog-standard journalistic tool”, denied that he had known it was widespread at The Mirror. He was quoted as saying in 1997 that he “knew [hacking] was widespread”, but earlier in his evidence stated that he didn’t know “how to do the trick” until 2001. Having denied ever doing such things himself, the Kirsty Young transcript from Desert Island Discs showed clearly the use of “I” by Morgan on several occasions. On his sale of shares aka insider trading when at The Mirror, Jay caught Morgan out again about how much he’d invested in the shares – or rather, what he’d told the Mirror and the PCC. Questioned about ‘binology’ (raking through celebrity bins) The Romping Arse ludicrously suggested he hadn’t known the term until the Inquiry began, only to be faced with ample evidence that he knew the word perfectly well….having himself employed the notorious ‘Benjy the Binman’.

During one key exchange – when Jay pinned Morgan into a corner about having 45 phone-hackers working for him – Morgan as good as said “Prove it”. And when faced with Stephen Nott’s damning evidence from 1998 (first given a wide airing here at The Slog) Morgan chose to smear Nott. He called him “psychotically obsessed”.

One could almost see the CNN anchor visibly blanche when Jay raised the issue of his role in the Paul McCartney-Heather Mills voice-hacking saga. To his relief, the QC stayed off the widely-known ‘restaurant hack’ story, but made Morgan squirm as to where he’d heard the ‘lovesong’ tape, forcing him to blather about ‘not compromising a source’. This was complete bollocks: Morgan played the tape at a Mirror party in the office. Falling back on “that was the rumour mill” – he used this seven times – the former NotW and Mirror editor was, at this point, about as convincing as James Murdoch, minus only the searing honesty.

In fact, Piers Morgan came across pretty much like most of the Newscorp lowlife: I can’t remember, it may have been, I can’t be sure, I was not made aware of it, and all the now irritatingly feeble excuses these gargoyles manufacture to stay out of jail. On several occasions, for example, Jay quoted directly from Morgan’s books, making him look silly for being unable to remember what he’d been happy to publish.

If there is any justice, this time next week Piers Morgan will be out of a job. But if Paul McCartney goes to the Met Police about Moron’s complete role in the ‘restaurant hack’, he will be a very lucky lad to stay out of a charge-room.

I continue to have severe doubts about the Leveson Inquiry. From the off I’ve been wondering why we need the damn thing at all, and why Plod can’t just get on with some collar-feeling: I don’t recall the rioter/looter chaps some months back getting immunity until some senile old judge had reported that the rioters felt cheated by society, and thus nicked every designer sports-shoe they could, the better to escape next time. But as it unfolds (and before today – apart from the Hugh Grant evidence – it  had unfolded in a manner guaranteed to cure tertiary insomnia) I’m beginning to think that Leveson himself is sort of running a daily focus group, and hoping that one of the respondents can come with an idea about how to get the UK’s editorial media back under control.

I also watched yesterday’s session briefly, in which the IoS Deputy Editor James Hanning was asked a bewildering array of moral and ethical questions by the Chairman, my favourite of which was “So when is a story in the public interest, then?” When Hanning – an experienced and scrupulously honest journalist – answered, “I really wouldn’t be able to answer that”, Leveson harrumphed as if the Indie’s man had flunked the job of putting his name at the top of the exam paper.

The reality is that ever since Caxton first pulled a piece of printed paper off his press, with the headline ‘Everything the Devil’s work claims Pope’, people with very large brains have been arguing the toss about public interest. The question wanders in and out of the culture, IQ, freedom of speech, the individual’s right to privacy, people in the public eye, security matters, libel law, defamation debates, and whether silks should be able to make such enormous piles of cash helping the likes of Lord Bell pretend he is of our species.

I was brought up in the school of advertising, and during the 1970s and 1980s, our right to say things in public media was gradually reduced until (in many product fields) about all one could do was stick a pack shot in and give the price. Several product fields then had all their advertising banned by law; I happen to agree with that where it pertains, but I note that HMG has not as yet eschewed the collection of taxes upon those products.

Similarly, many hacks of my acquaintance were busy at times moralising about drink and fags, when their papers were full of ads for both – and many of their colleagues wandered about in a fuzzy cloud of Scotch, Benson and Hedges. My point is that massive hypocrisy accompanies all the views held by everyone about such matters, and while advertising claims are now very closely controlled, having the Press Complaints Commission dithering on this and that has, without question, spawned a Fleet Street nearly devoid of ethics about how to Get The Story. Something, as Edward VIII said during his mercifully short reign, must be done.

Here again the Inquiry strikes me as, in some ways, more flim-flam. I have yet to meet any member of the public – including many in the media – who would not approve the printing of all mendacity/inaccuracy corrections on page one of the offending organ. My own preference would be for banner headlines along the lines of ‘Sun destroyed man’s life with bunch of turd-ridden lies’ and so forth, but then I am less extreme than some folks about that such things.

As I file this piece, Moron is still busy hanging himself with a closing statement. Long may he do so.