Biographer denies making up Piers Morgan hacking claim to help Prince Harry

ITV News reporter Rebecca Barry has the latest from the High Court trial on unlawful information-gathering claims brought against Mirror Group Newspapers

The author of a biography on the Duke of Sussex has denied having a “vested interest” in helping Harry, the High Court has heard.

Omid Scobie, co-author of the biography Finding Freedom about Harry and the Duchess of Sussex, entered the witness box on Monday as part of a trial in claims brought by several high-profile individuals, including Harry, against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN).

He also denied that his evidence about Piers Morgan being told about an incident of phone hacking was a “false memory” made up to help Prince Harry.

MGN – publisher of The Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People – is accused of unlawful information-gathering including voicemail interception, securing information through deception, and hiring private investigators for unlawful activities.

The publisher is contesting the cases, saying they have been brought too late and that there is “no evidence, or no sufficient evidence, of voicemail interception” in any of the four claims chosen as “representative” cases.

The court heard that as a journalism student, Mr Scobie spent a week at the Sunday People where he claims he was given "a list of mobile numbers followed by a detailed verbal description of how to listen to voicemails, as if it were a routine newsgathering technique".

In his witness statement, Mr Scobie continued: "I was taken aback by what seemed completely immoral and I never carried out the task."

But Andrew Green KC, for MGN, said it was “somewhat implausible” that a student intern, who was only at the paper for about a week, would have been asked to hack phones.

Mr Scobie replied: “I was not a stranger to this [journalist], I had already met them at some events, I knew them through another person.

“The word hack was not used… this was just a journalist telling me how to do something.”

The royal correspondent said he did not hack the phones.

Former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan. Credit: PA

Mr Scobie later said: “It felt wrong. In the moment you just sit there and listen, it’s only as it sinks in that it does not feel right.”

Mr Green suggested that the incident “did not happen,” to which Mr Scobie said: “You would be surprised at what happens during internships.”

The barrister continued: “You have either created a false memory in your desire to be helpful or you have knowingly created a false memory.”

“I take offence to that,” Mr Scobie said.

Mr Justice Fancourt was told that in spring 2002, Mr Scobie did work experience at the Daily Mirror and allegedly overheard then-editor Piers Morgan being told that information relating to Kylie Minogue and her boyfriend had come from voicemails.

On Monday, the High Court in London was also told there is an invoice from a private investigator firm for £170, addressed to a showbiz journalist at the paper, for "K Minogue".

The royal commentator continued in his written evidence: “I recall that during one of those days in the office – which housed the 3AM team and some 'showbiz' journalists in the same section – the editor of the newspaper, Piers Morgan, came over to talk with someone, I do not recall who, about a story in the works on Kylie Minogue and her, on-off, at the time, boyfriend James Gooding.

"Mr Morgan was asking how confident they were in the reporting and was told that the information had come from voicemails.

"I recall being surprised to hear this at the time, which is why it stuck in my mind."

Omid Scobie said he overheard Piers Morgan being told that information relating to Kylie Minogue had come from voicemails Credit: Matt Crossick/PA

Mr Morgan, who was the Mirror’s editor between 1995 and 2004, has previously denied involvement in phone hacking.

Mr Green said to Mr Scobie: “This is another false memory.”

The journalist replied: “No, and I take offence to you saying this is another one.”

At the start of Mr Scobie's cross-examination, Mr Green described Finding Freedom – his book written with fellow journalist Carolyn Durand – as “favourable to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex”.

“It was fair,” Mr Scobie replied.

The barrister later asked whether the reporter’s career is “to some extent linked to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex”.

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Mr Scobie said: “I would say that a lot of that would be due to factors out of my control.”

The royal correspondent later said he was a journalist “trying to do my job” amid claims he was a “cheerleader” or “mouthpiece” for the couple.

Mr Green said: “Do you have a vested interest in helping the Duke of Sussex if the opportunity arises?”

“No. What I am doing right now is giving ammunition to the tabloids to continue calling me his friend,” Mr Scobie replied.

The royal correspondent said he did not have Harry’s mobile number, adding he was wrongly described as Meghan’s “mouthpiece” and “cheerleader” for the couple.

He continued: “I am a member of the press trying to do my job … what I am doing today is making my life more difficult.”

The Duke is expected to give evidence in June. Credit: PA

Ex-Sunday Mirror reporter Dan Evans – who was described as the paper’s former “in-house hacker” – also entered the witness box on Monday.

Mr Evans – who later joined the now-defunct News of the World, subsequently admitted phone hacking and was given a 10-month suspended prison sentence – alleged there was “endemic criminality” at both the News of the World and MGN.

He alleged that “many people” at MGN titles were involved “in what I today honestly believe to be one of the longest and most developed corporate/criminal conspiracies in British history”.

Mr Evans later alleged that journalists at the Sunday Mirror would “stand up” stories from legitimate stories “by looking to hack the phones of the individuals involved, or their friends, so that we could verify the truth of the information given to us by the source”.

As well as Harry, Coronation Street actors Mr Turner and Nikki Sanderson, and comedian Paul Whitehouse’s ex-wife Fiona Wightman are named as “representative” cases for the trial.

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