Morgan stays defiant as doubts grow over scoop

Piers Morgan misses awards ceremony as pressure mounts over pictures of Iraqi prisoner abuse

The Daily Mirror has dismissed mounting speculation that the pictures it published showing British troops abusing Iraqi prisoners are fakes.

The paper came under intense pressure this week as politicians, military sources and other media cast doubt over the authenticity of the photographs.

Conservative leader Michael Howard also told the Commons if the Mirror pictures were fake the “editor will have to take full responsibility”.

But a spokesman for the newspaper maintained: “Our sources are serving members of the regiment who stand fully behind what happened and the veracity of the photographs – and so do we.”

The Daily Mirror published pictures on Friday that purported to show an Iraqi prisoner being beaten by members of the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment. After what the paper said was an eight-hour ordeal, the man was then thrown off the back of a truck while “close to death”.

Military sources and rival newspapers have since suggested the pictures may have been faked.

The criticisms include:

None of the men in the pictures appear to be moving;
The photographs are too sharp;
They were taken in black and white rather than colour;
The gun and the truck shown are not like those used by the army in Iraq.

Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan declined to be interviewed by Press Gazette, but in Wednesday’s paper he stated: “We stand completely by everything we have published and have read nothing which changes that view at all.”

In a statement, he added: “The Daily Mirror makes no apology for exposing this outrageous and unlawful behaviour, which has been common knowledge among disgusted British servicemen in Basra for many months.”

The story was broken by Oldham-based northern editor Steve White and reporter Paul Byrne the day after UK newspapers published pictures showing US troops abusing Iraqi prisoners.

According to a source at the paper, the Mirror story has been in the pipeline for “a few weeks” and the paper was already investigating claims of brutality when it acquired the photographs.

The Daily Mirror declined to comment on reports that it had paid its sources £20,000 for the story.

Officers from the army’s Special Investigations Branch interviewed two Mirror journalists on Tuesday. Morgan may also face the Commons defence select committee for questioning.

The Daily Mirror has vowed not to reveal the identities of its sources.

Asked at the London Press Club Awards on Wednesday about the Conservatives having the support of Richard Desmond’s Express Newspapers, Howard said: “I am a lot happier to have the support of the Daily Express than I would be to have the support of another newspaper if certain inquiries turn out the way a lot of people think they will.”

Morgan was on the guest-list for the awards, in which his paper was shortlisted, but did not attend.

Insiders said he was “relaxed and confident” when chairing Wednesday’s editorial conference.

By Dominic Ponsford

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