Trinity Mirror has denied claims made in court that a "horde" of its journalists were involved in phone-hacking.
And far from being involved in a cover-up, it said that it has cooperated fully with a police investigation into allegations of wrongdoing at the People, Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror.
The High Court is currently hearing a case brought by eight phone-hacking claimants to decide the level of damages they will receive.
David Sherborne, acting for the claimants, said that phone-hacking was "rife" at the Mirror national titles.
Matthew Nicklin QC, for Trinity Mirror, said in his submission for the company that it makes no excuses for its employees having engaged in voicemail interception.
He said: "Let me therefore start by saying, unequivocally, that voicemail interception and data blagging to which, some years ago, these claimants were subject was unlawful, unacceptable and wrong. It should not have happened."
He said these activities "have long been banished from Trinity Mirror’s business" and that "Trinity Mirror is facing up to and taking responsibility for this historic wrongdoing".
Trinity Mirrorr has, he said, "put in enormous resources into finding the evidence that has now enabled a clearer picture to emerge of what went on".
He added: "Data has been restored going back many years and external experts have been engaged to analyse and search this data."
And on the subject of the criminal inquiry, he said: "Trinity Mirror has been cooperating throughout with the police inquiry; an inquiry which has been long and complex.
"The documents provided to the police by Trinity Mirror have also been provided to the claimants in this case along with many other documents located as a result of searches. The length of the police investigation indicates the wide scope of this exercise."
Denying claims Trinity Mirror has been mounting a cover-up, he said that "significant cooperation by Trinity Mirror has been acknowledged and welcomed on a regular basis by the Metropolitan Police since the start".
Rather than phone-hacking being widespread at Trinity Mirror, Nicklin said it was carried out by former Sunday Mirror reporter Dan Evans and a "trusted inner circle" and that "tthe whole exercise was shrouded in secrecy".
It said: "Dan Evans was instructed by that inner circle to cover his tracks and leave no trace. It is therefore not surprising that it has proved very difficult to find the traces of phone-hacking."
He said that some of "more extravagant claims made on behalf of the claimants" by their lawyer are not backed by any evidence.
In particular he said that no evidence will be produced during the trial to suggest the following:
- that the board of Trinity Mirror was aware that hacking was going on at the time of the Leveson inquiry
- that Trinity Mirror denied the first four claims of phone-hacking while knowing that its denial was false
- that Trinity Mirror engaged in any kind of cover-up
- that a large number of journalists, a “horde”, were involved in unlawful voicemail interception.
Nicklin said: "It is quite wrong, unfair and unjust, to taint a large number of honest, hard-working journalists with the wrongdoing of a few.
"The evidence upon which this is sought to be done is paper-thin. Journalists are alleged to be likely phone-hackers simply because they rang the central Orange number to access voicemails, even though the court has no information as to whose voicemails they were accessing or why.
"Journalists are said to be likely hackers because their names appeared on bylined articles about the claimants which contained at least some information that had been derived, by someone, from phone-hacking. These inferences of guilt do not withstand scrutiny, and it is unfair that they should be made publicly.
"Mr Evans’ own evidence on behalf of the claimants is that information he obtained from hacking was often passed to journalists as tips and those journalists had no idea that the information had come from hacking people’s voicemails."