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SUNDAY 14 APRIL 2024

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Piers still denies phone hacking claims (well he would, wouldn’t he?)

SMUG: Piers Morgan, left, and BBC interviewer Amol Rajan

One of my oldest and most valued chums is Brian Basham, not of this parish but once with the Mail (in its saner times) and the Telegraph before hiking it up Ludgate Hill to the where the money really is. He became a genuine City grandee by advising some of the biggest companies in the land on everything from takeovers to public image.

 

This week Basham was in the High Court giving evidence in the Harry v Mirror case which, with the prospect of others to come against the Mail and The Sun, may prove a watershed for the media (as m’learned friend Mr Dismore wrote here earlier.)

 

Brian told counsel that in 2012 he had advised the then chairman of Mirror Group David Grigson that he should order an investigation into all the rumours of phone hacking. No investigation resulted. Later my pal told the hearing that he accused company secretary Paul Vickers and the then CEO Sly Bailey of orchestrating a cover-up of hacking.

 

Much as I regretted leaving the Express in 1995, I now realise that with mobile phones in their infancy and therefore with hacking still an embryo (I assume) I never had to face the reality that was to come. Not so Piers Morgan, editor of the Daily Mirror from 1995 to 2004, who has denied with increasing levels of self righteous indignation that he ever knew that any story during his time in charge came about through hacking.

 

In the immortal words of Mandy Rice-Davies: He would say that wouldn’t he?

 

The cock crowed many times during last week’s BBC interview with Amol Rajan, the only man who could possibly beat Morgan in the Smug and Smirk Memorial Stakes. And yet legal filings to the trial allege that when Morgan asked one of his journalists where the reporter’s story had come from the reply was that it was from voicemails. In another instance, Morgan was allegedly in the middle of the Mirror newsroom ‘laughing mockingly’ while playing to staff a voicemail Paul McCartney had left for his then girlfriend, Heather Mills.

 

All of which is at variance, to say the very least, with what he told the bejewelled Rajan (four rings, a watch on each wrist, a necklace and don’t ask what else) in the 40-minute interview. In summary, it was a flat denial, several of them, that phone hacking took place during his time in charge and that he didn’t even know how the system worked.

 

Back to Basham: He is a campaigner for corporate responsibility and he is right. ‘There is strong resonance between the hacking and banking scandals,’ he says. ‘Of course, there are rogue bankers and rogue journalists but the overall picture is of decent men and women coming under pressure to get results with no monitoring of the means employed.’

 

It all boils down to ‘failure to prevent’ (or ‘happy to turn a blind eye’) which so many organisations have done over the years. Failure to prevent legislation in part has its roots in the judge-led investigation into the capsizing of the Herald of Free Enterprise just outside Zeebrugge Harbour on March 6, 1987. The court found that ‘the capsize was the joint fault of the master, the chief officer, the assistant bosun, and of Townsend Car Ferries Ltd at all levels of management.’

 

Basham was advising Wimpey plc at the time and he remembers how that verdict caused instant panic for the construction giant. ‘Within months, building sites became a sea of yellow high-viz jackets and other gear,’ he says, ‘that was supplied more to protect main board directors from feared prosecution than workers from harm.’

 

The ramifications of this and the other trials, if they go ahead, will be huge. Hard hats all round please steward!

 *****

The trail of destruction resulting from the lies of Boris Johnson continues apace. Forty new hospitals was the 2019 election pledge: So far, three built. We’ll get Brexit done. Result: Stormont still not sitting and now Vauxhall saying that it can’t get various parts to meet its electric car production because of unthought-through Brexit legislation. The ongoing migrant crisis, and three pending by-elections in Tory seats because he has nominated sitting MPs to the Lords. I could go on and frequently do.

 

And yet and yet, those strange people from Planet Mogg want him back with civil war building for poor little Rishi. Daniel Craig as the villain Conor Rooney in Sam Mendes’ masterpiece, Road to Perdition, was asked why he was always smiling. Came the reply: ‘Because it’s all so fucking hilarious.’

 *****

Extraordinary images of the Titanic asleep on the Atlantic seabed now emerge. It’s the tragedy that continues to grimly fascinate. But as ever: my fellow Paddies can always see a bright side even when there isn’t one. Wandering round the brilliant St George’s market in Belfast in 2012 we came across a centenary t-shirt with the simple message: She Was All Right When She Left Here!