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Lawmaker calls on CNN's Piers Morgan to return to UK as hacking scandal widens

A British lawmaker has called on U.S. talk show host Piers Morgan to return from abroad to answer questions about possible involvement in a widening newspaper phone-hacking scandal.
/ Source: news services

A British lawmaker has called on talk show host Piers Morgan to return from the U.S. to answer questions about possible involvement in a widening newspaper phone-hacking scandal.

The comments by Therese Coffey, a Conservative, came after model Heather Mills alleged that a journalist at the Trinity Mirror newspaper group had hacked her phone before she was married to former Beatle Paul McCartney.

Mills' accusation, if proven, could lead to a wider investigation over phone hacking by British newspapers that has so far centered on titles owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

CNN talk show host Morgan worked as editor of the Daily Mirror, one of more than 260 newspaper titled published by Trinity Mirror, until 2004.

'I was played a tape'
In a 2006 article for Britain's Daily Mail newspaper, Morgan said he had listened to one of Mills' phone messages.

"Stories soon emerged that the marriage was in trouble — at one stage I was played a tape of a message Paul had left for Heather on her mobile phone," he wrote.

Coffey, a member of a parliamentary committee that is investigating phone hacking, told the BBC that she felt Mills' allegations were "very strong" and she "didn't see any point in [Morgan] necessarily just staying in the U.S. and issuing statements."

She added: "I just hope that the police take the evidence and go with it and if Mr. Morgan wants to come back to the U.K. and help them with their inquiries, and I don't mean being arrested in any way, I'm sure he can add more light."

Harriet Harman, deputy leader of the opposition Labour Party, also raised the pressure on Morgan. "He's got to answer now," Harman told Sky News.

Morgan's comments in his 2006 article "give rise to the assumption he heard a tape-recorded message," she told Sky.

The BBC said Morgan was not the journalist who had contacted Mills with details of her phone messages.

Messages quoted 'verbatim'
Mills said the journalist from the Trinity Mirror Group had confronted her with details of sensitive messages left on her phone.

The British Broadcasting Corp. said Mills' messages were left by McCartney, whom she married in 2002. The couple separated four years later.

"He started quoting verbatim the messages from my machine, and ... I'd wondered why they had already been heard, listened to, when it says 'heard messages'," Mills told the BBC.

The BBC said the journalist worked at the Mirror Group, although Mills does not mention the journalist's employers in the audio clip provided by the BBC.

"I said you've obviously hacked my phone and if you do anything with this story, because they were obviously very private conversations about issues we were having as a couple, I said then I'll go to the police," she added.

She went on to say the journalist admitted hacking her phone and agreed not to use a story based on the messages.

In May, The Guardian reported that Mills was weighing a possible lawsuit again the News of the World, a Sunday newspaper owned by News Corp.'s British newspaper arm News International, over alleged phone hacking.

The BBC also reported that many other prominent people, including England soccer star Rio Ferdinand, believe the Mirror Group intercepted their phone messages.

"All of our journalists work within the criminal law and the PCC code of conduct," said Nick Fullagar, Trinity Mirror's director of corporate communications, referring to Britain's Press Complaints Commission industry watchdog.

Widening scandal
Allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World last month prompted the newspaper's closure and the resignation of News International chief Rebekah Brooks.

Morgan said in a statement that the BBC had confirmed to him that the journalist, whom Morgan refers to as a senior executive, was not employed by the Daily Mirror.

He also said he had no knowledge of conversations any other executive at Trinity Mirror may have had with Mills.

"Heather Mills has made unsubstantiated claims about a conversation she may or may not have had with a senior executive from a Trinity Mirror newspaper in 2001," he said, describing her claims as "somewhat extravagant."

"To reiterate, I have never hacked a phone, told anyone to hack a phone, nor to my knowledge published any story obtained from the hacking of a phone," he added.

Mark Lewis, lawyer for victims of phone hacking by the News of the World, on Monday confirmed that he had instructions to take legal action against Trinity Mirror on behalf of other unnamed phone hacking victims.

Meanwhile, the publisher of Britain's Daily Mail newspaper said Thursday it was reviewing its editorial procedures. Associated Newspapers Ltd. said that Liz Hartley, the company's head of editorial legal services, would be among those working on the review.

The terse statement released late Thursday revealed few other details and Hartley did not immediately return emails seeking further comment.