Jeremy Paxman has told the Leveson Inquiry the then editor of the Daily Mirror Piers Morgan told him how mobile phones could be hacked.
The Newsnight presenter said today the conversation took place during a lunch with “a dozen or so” people at the Trinity Mirror Group offices in 2002. Ulrika Jonsson, businessman Philip Green and Sir Victor Blank – then chairman of TMG – also attended.
Paxman said the editor warned him to change the security code on his voicemail service after “teasing” Jonsson over her relationship with football manager Sven-Goran Eriksson.
He told the inquiry: “Morgan said, teasing Ulrika, that he knew what had happened in conversations between her and Sven-Goran Eriksson, and he went in to this mock Swedish accent.
“Now I don’t know whether he was repeating a conversation that he had heard or he was imaging this conversation. In fact to be fair to him I think we should accept both possibilities.”
He added: “It was a rather bad parody. I was quite struck by it. I didn’t know that sort of thing went on.”
He added: “He then turned to me and said, ‘Have you got a mobile phone?’ and I said, ‘Yes’, and he said, ‘Have you got a security setting on the message bit of it?’ I don’t think it was called voicemail in those days. I didn’t know what he was talking about and he explained that the way to get access to peoples messages was to go to the factory default setting and press either 0000 or 1234 and that if you didn’t put on your own code his words, ‘You’re a fool’.
“I didn’t like the atmosphere. I can’t be specific about how anyone reacted but it struck me as close to bullying, frankly, to be teasing someone about private messages. I didn’t like it.”
Paxman went on to tell the inquiry he found it easier not to have politicians as personal friends and said he only took them to lunch “three or four times” a year. He agreed that the relationship between politicians and the press was symbiotic – comparing it to “ticks and sheep”.
He told Lord Justice Leveson politicians seek “to tell us how to lead our lives” while journalists hold them to account.
He added: “If you were to say to me is there some great textbook or manual that prescribes what the function of journalism is, I could not point you at anything. It is a collective ambition, perhaps, of those of us who are in this estate. That’s how we justify our existence.”