Hacking: Old interviews take on new significance amid spirit of self-scrutiny on Fleet Street

Amid the new atmosphere of self-scrutiny on Fleet Street – interviews which prompted little interest at the time are now being flagged up as new evidence of wrongdoing.

Among them are these quotes given by then Press Gazette proprietor Piers Morgan to me following the imprisonment of Clive Goodman in January 2007 (which has been widely quoted over the last day or so).

It strikes me that in the light of what we know now, he was bang-on by saying that Goodman had been made the scapegoat for the industry.

Talking about Andy Coulson’s resignation as News of the World editor Morgan said:

“I am amazed that News International have allowed one of the best journalists I have ever worked with to leave at the peak of his powers.

‘Andy is a brilliant, instinctive editor who consistently broke huge stories,  and I would expect him to land another big job very quickly. As for Clive Goodman, I feel a lot of sympathy for a man who has been the convenient fall-guy for an investigative practice that everyone knows was going on at almost every paper in Fleet Street for years.”

Elsewhere in the PG archives, this front page story from 2006 quoted an un-named redtop insider talking about mobile phone message hacking:

‘It is extremely prevalent among the Sunday tabloids – it goes on all the time.

‘The process is known as screwing a phone. Most people who have mobile phones don’t change the factory setting on their voicemail – it could be four zeros or 1234, something very simple like that. You might try using their birthday or something like that if they have changed the setting.

‘It is a far more common practice than members of the public realise. There are some journalists who quite revel in their ability to do this.”

This extract from a feature I wrote for the October 2010 edition of Press Gazette magazine is probably also worth repeating:

‘If the police really wanted to investigate this they could close down Fleet Street.”

This was the view of one former red-top insider. They were one of the top names in the tabloids in the early part of this decade (not the News of the World) but no longer works in newspapers.

They said: ‘Lots of journalists were doing it [mobile phone hacking]. The only reason people suspected their phone had been hacked was when people would listen to their messages and there weren’t any there.

‘It was quite normal practice. If you think of a celebrity scoop from that era it probably came as a result of phone hacking.”

The source then named an extremely high-profile celeb kiss-and-tell scoop from the period, which they said came about as a result of a hacked mobile phone message.

The source said: ‘It came about because of the massive pressure to get a story. When you have your editor shouting at you to get a story you lose your morality. If you need to get a story and everyone else is doing it, you think that’s normal. And you don’t really see the celebrities as being real people. You see them as a product, as a story.

‘There was a guy at one paper I was at who you could call if you ever needed a mobile phone number. He could find them for you.”

One news agency boss, who also asked to remain anonymous, agreed that pressure from editors was the cause of journalists breaking the rules: ‘You should look at use of the ‘dark arts’ in the context of the terror that editors used to push out.”

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