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Piers Morgan testifies in UK hacking probe about Paul McCartney phone message

12/20/2011 by Corinne Heller

Piers Morgan, a CNN host and former "America's Got Talent" judge, has testified at a media ethics probe spurred by a celebrity hacking scandal that he listed to what a lawyer said was a voice mail Paul McCartney had left on Heather Mills' cell phone.

Morgan, a former UK tabloid editor, made his comments on Tuesday, December 20, via a video call from the United States, where he works. The lawyer said the former Beatles singer had left the message for Mills, his girlfriend at the time, after she left for India after an argument. McCartney pleaded for her to return and sang to her. The two divorced in 2008 after six years of marriage.

"So you listened to all of that?" the lawyers asked Morgan, as seen in a video posted on the website of the UK newspaper The Telegraph. "Did you know that that was unethical?"

"Not unethical, no," Morgan said. "It doesn't necessarily follow listening to somebody speaking to somebody else is unethical."

Morgan said he did not believe he listened to any material obtained illegally and that he refused to reveal who had played the recording for him or where he heard it.

British Prime Minister David Cameron had ordered the investigation into media practices and ethics earlier this summer amid a highly-publicized phone hacking scandal that involved celebrities and several tabloids, namely Rupert Murdoch's News of The World, which Morgan edited between January 1994 and November 1995. The newspaper shut down operations in July of this year.

Morgan was the editor of the tabloid The Daily Mirror between 1995 and 2004. He testified at the inquiry that he did not believe hacking took place at the newspaper at the time and that he was not aware of any police officers being paid for information, according to BBC News.

In August, Mills said on the BBC 2 show "Newsnight" that an unidentified journalist from the newspaper's parent company called her in 2001 after she had an argument with McCartney and quoted parts of a voice mail he had left her after she traveled to India, adding he had "started quoting verbatim the messages from my machine."

"Without identifying your source, the only person who would lawfully be able to listen to the message is the lady in question or somebody authorized on her behalf to listen to it," Lord Justice Leveson, the judge in charge of the inquiry, told Morgan. "I am perfectly happy to call Lady McCartney to give evidence as to whether she authorized you to listen to her voice mails. If she didn't, then we can proceed on the premise that it's somebody else, can't we?"

Morgan said McCarthy had said during his divorce proceedings that Mills had "recorded their conversations and given them to the media." The two have not responded to his remarks.

Morgan testified a day after McCartney announced that he plans to release a new album in 2012 that will contain covers of classic American songs that inspired him and late former Beatle John Lennon, as well as two original tracks.

Morgan began hosting the CNN talk show "Piers Morgan Tonight" after Larry King left his long-running series in December 2010 after some 25 years. He is also known in the United States as the acerbic judge on the NBC reality show "America's Got Talent." He recently left the series, saying he wanted to focus on his CNN job.

Controversial radio host Howard Stern announced on December 15 that he will take Morgan's place on the judging panel.

CELEBRITIES TESTIFY

In November, actress Sienna Miller and J.K. Rowling, author of the "Harry Potter" books, testified in the probe about their experiences being pursued by the paparazzi.

During the past few years, Miller, known for films such as "Alfie" and "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," and Rowling, the world's richest author with an estimated net worth of at least $1 billion, have both often been featured in UK tabloids and are often seen in photographs produced by celebrity photojournalists.

"I was relentlessly pursued by about 10 to 15 men almost daily, pretty much daily, and, you know, anything from being spat at or verbally abused," Miller testified Royal Courts of Justice in London recently, as seen in this video posted by the BBC. "I think that the incentive is really to get a strong a reaction as possible."

Earlier this year, Miller settled a lawsuit with the publication, saying she was one of several celebrities whose cell phone data was stolen. She was reportedly paid $164,500 in damages.

Rowling testified that she was forced to move out of a house because of harassment by journalists and that she once tried to "outrun a 20-something paparazzo while pushing a buggy," adding that her daughter tried to calm her down.

"It mattered hugely to me that the moment I set foot outside the door, my children were being photographed again," she said, according to CNN. "So the cumulative effect, it becomes quite draining."

While tabloids dominate the UK newspaper industry, paparazzi practices have been questioned more since the 1997 death of Princess Diana, who was killed in a car crash in Paris after being chased by celebrity photographers.

British actor Hugh Grant also testified at the media inquiry. He had helped spearhead a legal battle against News of the World and other tabloids. The actor, known for films such as the 1994 movie "Four Weddings and a Funeral," has also been a tabloid favorite in the United Kingdom, especially following his 1995 arrest for soliciting a prostitute.

Recently, he has been in the media spotlight due to the birth of his first child, a daughter. Her mother is Ting Lan Hong, a woman he used to date. She recently told a UK high court that celebrity photographers had been harassing her since her pregnancy, prompting Grant to file an injunction on her behalf.

Check out a video of Piers Morgan testifying at the media ethics probe, courtesy of the UK newspaper The Telegraph.

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