LONDON — CNN celebrity interviewer Piers Morgan was an extremely hands-on U.K. tabloid editor who must have known that phone hacking was rife at his paper, a former employee claimed Wednesday.
Business journalist James Hipwell said voicemail interception was an everyday activity at the Daily Mirror tabloid, where he worked as a columnist providing stock tips.
Hipwell told a British inquiry into media ethics that while he had no direct evidence that Morgan, the Daily Mirror editor at the time, was involved in the practice, he said it was impossible to imagine that Morgan had been kept in the dark.
"Nothing happened at the newspaper without him knowing," Hipwell testified, speaking a day after Morgan was grilled Tuesday in a tense, nationally televised hearing before the inquiry.
Before his U.S. television career, Morgan ran two British tabloids — Murdoch's now-shuttered News of the World, between 1994 and 1995, which has been at the center of the U.K. phone hacking scandal, then the rival Daily Mirror, which is not connected to the Murdoch empire, where he stayed for nearly a decade.
Hipwell and Morgan have a long history. Both were investigated as part of an inquiry into market manipulation after it emerged that Morgan had made a quick profit of thousands of pounds (dollars) by buying shares that were promoted in the next day's paper.
Morgan was cleared of wrongdoing, but Hipwell and another tipster, Anil Bhoyrul, were convicted in 2005. Hipwell expressed remorse over his role in the stock scam but said he always believed that his former boss had been as guilty as he was.
"I can understand why people think that I have an ax to grind against him," Hipwell told the inquiry.
By Hipwell's account, phone hacking was a matter of routine — a "standard journalistic tool for gathering information." He said journalists openly boasted about breaking into phones to intercept voicemails.
He challenged Morgan's unsupported assertion Tuesday that a tabloid editor could only monitor about 5 percent of his journalists' work, saying he often saw Morgan inspecting reporter's computer screens or working late into the night to tweak headlines.
Morgan "stamped his authority on every single page," Hipwell said. "The newspaper was built around the cult of Piers."
Morgan, 46, has already dismissed Hipwell's claims as the "unsubstantiated allegations of a liar and convicted criminal." Trinity Mirror Group lawyer Desmond Browne made a similar argument, saying his newspaper group rejected Hipwell's allegations.
However, testimony to the inquiry is given under oath, meaning speakers could be subject to criminal proceedings if found to have violated any British laws.
More than a dozen News of the World journalists have been arrested in the hacking scandal, senior executives with Murdoch's News Corp. media empire have lost their jobs, and top U.K. police officers have resigned over their failure to tackle the problem.
Authorities on Wednesday arrested their first serving police officer as part of an investigation into bribes paid to police by journalists seeking scoops.
London police said a 52-year-old woman, who has not been identified, was arrested on suspicion of corruption and misconduct in a public office. The woman was detained at a house in Essex, in southeastern England, and was being questioned.
Eight people, including a reporter working for The Sun tabloid, have so far been arrested as part of the police corruption inquiry, although no one has yet been charged.
Separately, a court ruled Wednesday that Murdoch's British newspaper company must keep paying the legal fees of a private investigator at the center of the scandal.
High Court justice Andrew Morritt said the News International subsidiary News Group Newspapers was bound by an agreement last year protecting Glenn Mulcaire from costs and damages arising from voicemail litigation in which they were joint defendants.
The company, itself a subsidiary of Murdoch's News Corp., had tried to end the contract after it emerged publicly that it was still guaranteeing the costs of a convicted criminal. Mulcaire was jailed briefly in 2007, along with News of the World royal correspondent Clive Goodman, for eavesdropping on the phone messages of royal aides.
Goodman and Mulcaire remain the only two people ever convicted over the practice.
Associated Press writers Jill Lawless and David Stringer contributed to this report.
Leveson Inquiry: http://www.levesoninquiry.org.uk/
Raphael G. Satter: http://twitter.com/razhael