POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jul 24, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 3:06 a.m. HST, Jul 24, 2011
LONDON » One British newspaper has already been felled by the escalating scandal over the interception of public figures' voicemails.
Now storm clouds are gathering over the Trinity Mirror group, the publisher of Britain's left-leaning Mirror tabloid, amid allegations that phone hacking was rife there as well.
James Hipwell, who used to work at the Mirror, said hacking was a common tactic among his former colleagues.
"It was seen as a bit of a wheeze, slightly underhand but something many of them did," James Hipwell was quoted as saying by The Independent on Saturday.
"After they'd hacked into someone's mobile they'd delete the message so another paper couldn't get the story," Hipwell said.
Hipwell declined comment when reached by The Associated Press, saying he was seeking legal advice before revealing anything more to the media. But he confirmed that the interview was accurate.
The allegation isn't exactly new. Hipwell, who was fired from the Mirror in 2000, first aired the claim nearly a decade ago. His dismissal from the Mirror, coupled with a conviction for market manipulation several years later, may have also gone some way toward denting his credibility.
Still his claim has received renewed attention given the intense focus on Britain's media following the eruption of a phone hacking scandal which has shaken British politics, tarnished the reputation of the country's top police force and weakened Rupert Murdoch's media empire.
It's been backed by allegations of misbehavior at the Mirror's sister tabloids. The New York Times last week quoted five former journalists at The People, a Sunday newspaper which is also published by Trinity Mirror PLC, as saying that phone hacking was commonplace there from the late 1990s to early 2000.
Trinity Mirror PLC itself has repeatedly declined to address claims of past misbehavior at its titles, sticking to a one-line statement saying that "our journalists work within the criminal law and the (U.K. press watchdog's) code of conduct."
"That is our only response," Trinity Mirror spokesman Nick Fullagar said in a recent email. CNN star Piers Morgan, who was in charge at the Mirror when Hipwell was working, has said that any suggestion that he was involved in phone hacking is "a falsehood and I suspect maliciously done."
The phone hacking scandal exploded earlier this month with revelations that journalists at the News of the World tabloid hacked the phone of a 13-year-old murder victim while police were still searching for her and broadened to include claims reporters paid police for information.
That set off a firestorm which hit at the highest reaches of British society. It forced Murdoch to shutter News of the World, prompting a spate of high-profile resignations and departures at News Corp. and delivering the 80-year-old media baron and his son to be grilled before lawmakers.
So far Hipwell is the only journalist who has gone on the record with his claims. In an online message, Hipwell denied having an ax to grind, saying he's speaking out because he was "bored of the lies/dissembling/denials."
In any case he's not alone in alleging other papers shared in the News of the World's dishonorable practices.
"I believe it to be widespread," said Max Clifford, a celebrity publicist who got a hefty payout from the News of the World after his phone was hacked in an earlier scandal.
Clifford, who gave Hipwell a job after he was fired from the Mirror, said the News of the World may have been the worst offender -- but it wasn't the only offender.
"They weren't isolated. They weren't the only ones."