How publish and be damned took on a new meaning at the Mirror

The Daily Mirror built its circulation to more than 4.5m in the years after the Second World War with a mantra which journalist Hugh Cudlipp described as "publish and be damned".

For him it meant standing up to authority and the establishment to represent the concerns of working people.

That slogan could be given a new darker meaning when applied to some of the goings on at the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People in the early years of the 21st century.

Around the time that the Daily Mirror marked its centenary, a group of journalists adopted the attitude of publish and damn the consequences for those they illegally snooped upon.

Mr Justice Mann’s 200-page judgment detailing why eight phone-hacking claimants deserve £1.2m in damages provides a grim insight into how far some Mirror journalists had gone off the rails.

The paper which took a stand against appeasing Hitler allowed widespread illegal phone-hacking in order to find tawdry gossip about celebs.

We now know that Sunday Mirror journalist Dan Evans used to keep a list of his top 100 phone-hacking targets in his back pocket.

He would check their voicemail messages every day.

According to yesterday’s legal judgment “he was aware of many other journalists who were doing it”.

As Mr Justice Mann put it, “the activity was happening on a very large scale” at the Mirror group between the years 1999 to 2006.

Former Daily Mirror journalist James Hipwell worked at the paper from 1998 to 2000.

He testified that phone-hacking was “rife” and “endemic” in the open-plan office.

After 8 August 2006, when Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman were arrested for phone-hacking at the News of the World, there was a sudden and dramatic drop in calls from Mirror landlines to the Orange mobile phone platform to check voicemails. They went from well over 2,000 a year to 693 in 2007 and 393 in 2008.

Mr Justice Mann: “It always was implausible that Mirror group journalists were making so many calls to the Orange platform in relation to their own accounts in the years from 2002 to 2006, and the drop off from August 2006 is not coincidental.”

In addition to calls from office landlines, Mr Justice Mann noted that use of “burners” to hack phones was even more extensive. These were mobile phones bought with cash anonymously and then thrown away.

Parent company Trinity Mirror has set aside £28m to deal with hacking claims.

The damages are unprecedented because of the “enormity” of the intrusion, as Mr Justice Mann put it.

For some targets, phone messages were listened to every day over a period of years.

Sadie Frost thought friends and family were leaking stories to the media and forced them to sign confidentiality agreements.

Cudlipp asked in his 1952 history of the Mirror whether the paper could have taken its circulation from below a million in 1934 to more than 4m in just over a decade without “sincerity of purpose”.

After yesterday's judgment, the Mirror responded with a headline about the paper's intention to appeal against the size of the payouts. Chief executive Simon Fox also contrasted the £260,000 for Sadie Frost with the £350,000 offered to the parents whose two children were killed by faulty boiler in Corfu.

I wonder if the Daily Mirror would not be better served by facing up to past mistakes with a bold editorial statement of both contrition and renewed purpose.

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