Phone hacking questions dog ex-editor Piers Morgan

Heather Mills, former wife of Paul McCartney, says her voicemail was hacked by a journalist, an allegation that could widen the phone hacking scandal that has engulfed Britain.

Heather Mills says she was phone hacking victim

CNN's celebrity interviewer Piers Morgan faced calls Thursday to return to Britain to explain what he knows about the country's phone hacking scandal, although the 46-year-old star didn't seem in any hurry to go home.

The heat was turned up on Morgan when Heather Mills, the ex-wife of Paul McCartney, accused newspaper group Trinity Mirror PLC of accessing her voicemail messages. Morgan edited the company's flagship Daily Mirror newspaper between 1995 and 2004.

Some lawmakers have called on Morgan to return to Britain to answer questions about the scandal, but his spokesman, Meghan McPartland, said he had no immediate plans to leave for Britain.

On his Twitter feed, Morgan made light of the situation, saying he found it "so heartwarming that everyone in U.K.'s missing me so much they want me to come home."

Mills' allegation, made Wednesday in an interview with the BBC, centres on a phone call she said she received from a senior Trinity Mirror journalist in 2001, before she and McCartney were married.

In the call, the journalist referred to relationship problems she was having with the former Beatle. When Mills asked how he knew, she said the journalist quoted a voicemail left by McCartney on her phone word-for-word. She said that when she then accused him of breaking into her phone and threatened to call the police, he admitted it and promised not to run a story on the couple's fight.

Mills identified the journalist, although the BBC bleeped out the name, citing legal reasons. The BBC did say that the journalist was not Morgan.

Old Daily Mail article echoes claim

British parliamentarians probing the phone hacking scandal want Piers Morgan, now a CNN host, to answer questions about allegations that he knew about the practice at the Daily Mirror when he was the newspaper's editor. (Chris Pizzello/Associated Press)
Even though Morgan wasn't the one named by Mills, her allegation echoes a claim he himself made back in 2006, a few months after the couple began divorce proceedings.

In an article published by the Daily Mail, Morgan said that he had been played a tape of a message McCartney had left on Mills' cell phone in the wake of one of their fights.

"It was heartbreaking," Morgan wrote. "He sounded lonely, miserable and desperate, and even sang 'We Can Work It Out' into the answerphone."

In a statement released Wednesday, Morgan described Mills' allegation as unsubstantiated and noted that the judge in the couple's divorce case had cast aspersions on her credibility. He has repeatedly denied having ever ordered anyone to spy on others' voicemails.

Mills office on Thursday declined to elaborate on what she told the BBC, but said that the 43-year-old "looks forward to receiving Piers Morgan's answer as to how he knew the content of her private voicemail messages."

Labour Party deputy leader Harriet Harman also said Morgan had questions to answer over the extent of phone hacking within Britain's media industry. The scandal exploded at Rupert Murdoch's News of the World — which the media tycoon has since shut — but lately titles published by the Trinity Mirror have come under scrutiny as well.

Harman said that "the public rightly expects that we will get to the bottom of phone hacking. That's why it is so important that the police investigation looks at all the evidence and leaves no stone unturned."

John Whittingdale, chairman of Parliament's Culture, Media and Sport committee, which has examined Britain's phone-hacking scandal, said Morgan should return to the U.K. to answer questions — although not from his panel of lawmakers, which famously grilled Rupert Murdoch and his son James last month.

He said the panel's remit is focused only on allegations against the News of the World, but that a police inquiry into hacking may be interested to hear from Morgan. "Certainly if there is evidence implicating other newspapers then that needs to be part of that investigation," Whittingdale told Sky News.

Conservative legislator Therese Coffey, a member of Whittingdale's committee, also urged Morgan to return. "I think it would help everybody, including himself and this investigation, if he was able to say more about why he wrote what he did in 2006," she told the BBC's Newsnight program on Wednesday.

Paul McCartney responds

Former Beatle Paul McCartney said Thursday he would contact police over his ex-wife's claim that their private communication had been spied upon by British tabloid journalists, condemning the practice as horrendous.

In comments to U.S. television journalists in Los Angeles delivered via videolink, McCartney said that he would be in touch with police as soon as he was finished with his summer tour.

"I will be talking to them about that," McCartney said, speaking from Cincinatti, Ohio.

"I don't think it's great. I do think it is a horrendous violation of privacy, and I do think it's been going on a long time, and I do think more people than we know knew about it. But I think I should just listen and hear what the facts are before I comment," he said.

Mills isn't the first to go public with a phone hacking allegation against the Mirror. Late last month James Hipwell, a former Mirror journalist, claimed that his colleagues used the practice routinely. But Hipwell's credibility was clouded by the fact that he used his business column at the paper to hype stocks which he had purchased and then sell them, reaping the profits in an illegal market manipulation scam for which he was convicted in 2005.

Mills too has a credibility problem. After her contentious divorce from McCartney in 2008, the judge in the case said that Mills had an "explosive and volatile character" and was prone to make-believe, adding in his judgment that Mills' testimony had been inconsistent, inaccurate, and "less than candid."

Trinity Mirror won't answer questions

Trinity Mirror PLC has consistently refused to answer questions about the past conduct of its journalists, saying only that its employees follow the law and the British press watchdog's code of conduct. Mirror spokesman Nick Fullagar said Wednesday that the group was sticking to its statement.

Although the scandal over allegations that journalists routinely spied on public figures by intercepting their voicemails had its genesis at the now-defunct News of the World, media-watchers have long suspected that its competitors were in on the practice as well.

The Trinity Mirror's papers have come under growing scrutiny following allegations aired by unnamed former journalists quoted by the New York Times and the BBC that hacking was rife at some of its titles, and shares in the company have dropped by nearly 20 percent in the past week.

With files from CBC