REPORTING FROM LONDON -- Heather Mills, the former wife of Paul McCartney, on Thursday described to a British inquiry into media ethics how journalists had listened to unauthorized phone recordings of her conversations with the former Beatle and how paparazzi photographers had hounded her and her daughter.
Giving evidence to a panel formed after the phone hacking scandal linked to tabloid reporters working for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., Mills told how her relationship to McCartney was closely reported after the couple met in 1999.
Suggesting that phone hacking was not exclusively used by Murdoch's reporters, Mills recounted how a former employee of the Trinity Mirror group -- owner of the Daily Mirror tabloid, which was edited by TV personality Piers Morgan between 1995 and 2004 -- told her he had heard recorded phone conversations of pleading messages left on her phone by McCartney at a difficult time in their relationship.
Mills said she knew the reporter from stories he had written about her before her relationship with McCartney.
“He said, ‘Look Heather, we’ve heard that you and Paul have had an argument and I’ve just heard a message of him singing on the phone to you asking for forgiveness.’ And I said, ‘There is no way you can have heard that unless you’ve been listening to my messages,' and he laughed.”
Mills said she threatened “to do something about it” if he reported the story and never heard any more until last year when she discovered a reference to it in an article on her broken marriage. The piece, entitled “I’m sorry Macca for introducing you to this monster,” was written by Piers Morgan in 2006 chronicling his claim that he introduced the couple.
Mills said he did not introduce the couple at an event he hosted.
“Did you authorize Mr. Morgan to access your voice mail?” asked the panel’s lawyer, Robert Jay. “Never,” Mills answered.
Morgan was asked about the recordings by the panel in December and he said he could not reveal their source but denied he had ever knowingly listened to illegally obtained voice messages. He added that during the divorce between Mills and McCartney in 2006, Mills “stated as a fact that she had recorded their conversations and given them to the media.”
The inquiry also watched a clip from 64 hours of film Mills had made of evidence of constant pursuit by photographers stationed outside her house, including sounds of screeching tires and a crash and snatches of dialogue. “We don’t just turn up; we do it because we’re being asked to do it,” says one voice.
The allegations of phone hacking linked to Murdoch's now-defunct tabloid News of the World have become the focus of police and civil inquiries as well as legal hearings. News International, the British branch of News Corp., has agreed to several compensation packages for victims in efforts to stave off costly lawsuits.
So far this year, a London High Court has awarded several million dollars' worth of damage settlements to claimants, including such high-profile celebrities as actor Jude Law.
The latest hearing on Wednesday awarded damages to 15 people, including Alastair Campbell, one-time press secretary to former Prime Minister Tony Blair, and former soccer star Paul Gascoigne.
News Corp. faces more than 50 further claims for settlement. Police say they have collected names of more than 800 potential victims of phone hacking and media surveillance who also might sue.
-- Janet Stobart
Photo: Heather Mills, ex-wife of Paul McCartney, leaves the Royal Courts of Justice in a taxi on Thursday after giving evidence to a panel looking into media ethics. Credit: Justin Tallis / Agence France-Presse