A FORMER reporter for the Daily Mirror who says the News of the World was not the only British newspaper involved in phone hacking says he’s likely to make himself available to testify to the judicial inquiry into the scandal.
James Hipwell, 45, told The Australian Online he saw show business reporters on the Daily Mirror regularly intercept voicemail messages when he worked there from 1998 to 2000.
Hipwell is the only Fleet Street whistleblower who is offering to go on the record with accounts of voicemail hacking at newspapers other than the News of the World, which was closed down by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation two weeks ago.
“I know that for one simple reason: I used to see it going on around me all the time when I worked at the Daily Mirror,” he said in an interview that will appear in The Australian tomorrow.
“I sat right next to the show business desk and there were some show biz reporters who did it as a matter of course, as a basic part of their working day.
“One of their bosses would wander up and instruct a reporter to `trawl the usual suspects’, which meant going through the voice messages of celebrities and celebrity PR agents.”
“For everyone to pretend that this is some isolated activity found only at the News of the World is ridiculous, it’s just a lie.”
Hipwell said that depending on legal advice he would be willing to speak to the police and to the inquiry headed by Lord Justice Brian Leveson into the hacking scandal and the future regulation of Britain’s press.
Trinity Mirror, the publisher of the Daily Mirror, denied Hipwell’s claims, issuing a statement declaring that: “Our journalists work within the criminal law and the Press Complaints Commission code of conduct.”
Chris Hughes, a show business reporter during Hipwell’s time at the Mirror who has since become a defence correspondent, told The Australian Online that he had never hacked voicemails or been aware of the practice at the Mirror.
The first whistleblower in the scandal, Sean Hoare, worked at Trinity Mirror’s Sunday People as well as News Corporation’s Sun and News of the World, but he died this week from what was rumoured to be a drug overdose.
Paul McMullan, the other prominent whistleblower who has repeatedly spoken about phone hacking and other illegal practices, worked at the News of the World.
Hoare was sacked by the then NOTW editor Andy Coulson in 2005 because of his drug and drink addictions. McMullan has left the industry to run a pub and admits that he has a grudge against his former editor, Rebekah Brooks.
Hipwell also fell out with his former employer. He left the Mirror in disgrace in 2000 before being convicted five years later on market-rigging charges over “City Slickers”, a share-tipping column he wrote with a colleague.
Hipwell served 59 days in jail and was bitter to see his former editor Piers Morgan escape charges.
Morgan told investigators that it was a coincidence that he suddenly ploughed all the money he could get his hands on, Stg67,000, into shares of a relatively small firm on the day that City Slickers was about to tip it as a hot prospect, doubling its share price.
Hipwell has since written for The Guardian and The Observer. He has now moved his career to Lebanon, and writes largely about the issue of organ donation, having received a kidney transplant from his wife.
Hipwell’s interview with The Australian Online is the first time he has discussed the phone hacking issue since giving an interview to The Guardian after a News of the World reporter and private investigator were first arrested five years ago.
The New York Times yesterday reported that five former journalists at the Mirror’s stablemate The People had said that they regularly witnessed hacking in that newsroom in the late 1990s to early 2000, but they spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“I don’t think anyone quite realised the criminality of it,” said one of the unnamed former reporters at The People.