Jess Glass, PA
Mon, 15 May 2023 at 5:34 pm BST
A biographer of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex has denied that his evidence at the High Court about Piers Morgan being told about an incident of phone hacking was a “false memory” made up to help Harry.
Omid Scobie, co-author of the book Finding Freedom, about Harry and Meghan, entered the witness box on Monday as part of a trial on claims against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) brought by several high-profile individuals including Harry.
MGN – publisher of The Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People – is accused of unlawful information-gathering including voicemail interception, securing information through deception and hiring private investigators for unlawful activities.
The publisher is contesting the cases and has said there is “no evidence, or no sufficient evidence, of voicemail interception” in any of the four claims chosen as “representative” cases.
The court heard that as a journalism student, Mr Scobie spent a week at the Sunday People, where he claims he was given “a list of mobile numbers followed by a detailed verbal description of how to listen to voicemails, as if it were a routine news-gathering technique” by a journalist at the paper.
Andrew Green KC, for MGN, said it was “somewhat implausible” that a student intern, who was only at the paper for about a week, would have been asked to hack phones.
Mr Scobie replied: “I was not a stranger to this [journalist], I had already met them at some events, I knew them through another person.
“The word hack was not used… this was just a journalist telling me how to do something.”
The royal correspondent said he did not hack the phones.
Mr Scobie later said: “It felt wrong. In the moment you just sit there and listen, it’s only as it sinks in that it does not feel right.”
Mr Green suggested that the incident “did not happen”, to which Mr Scobie said: “You would be surprised at what happens during internships.”
The barrister continued: “You have either created a false memory in your desire to be helpful or you have knowingly created a false memory.”
“I take offence to that,” Mr Scobie said.
Mr Justice Fancourt was also told that in spring 2002, Mr Scobie did work experience at the Daily Mirror and allegedly overheard then-editor Piers Morgan being told that information relating to Kylie Minogue and her then-boyfriend had come from voicemails.
The High Court in London was also told there was an invoice from a private investigations firm for £170, addressed to a showbiz journalist at the paper, for “K Minogue”.
The royal commentator continued in his written evidence: “Mr Morgan was asking how confident they were in the reporting and was told that the information had come from voicemails.
“I recall being surprised to hear this at the time, which is why it stuck in my mind.”
Mr Morgan, who was the Mirror’s editor between 1995 and 2004, has previously denied involvement in phone hacking.
Mr Green said to Mr Scobie: “This is another false memory.”
The journalist replied: “No, and I take offence to you saying this is another one.”
Mr Scobie was also asked about his views of Mr Morgan as an editor by David Sherborne, representing the people bringing claims.
The journalist described Mr Morgan as “extremely hands-on” and “captivated” by the women working on the paper’s 3AM column.
“He generally seemed really interested in the showbiz coverage in general,” Mr Scobie added.
Earlier in his evidence, he said he was a journalist “trying to do my job” amid claims he was a “cheerleader” or “mouthpiece” for Harry and Meghan.
Mr Green said: “Do you have a vested interest in helping the Duke of Sussex if the opportunity arises?”
“No. What I am doing right now is giving ammunition to the tabloids to continue calling me his friend,” Mr Scobie replied.
“I am a member of the press trying to do my job … what I am doing today is making my life more difficult.”
“I don’t have a close relationship with them personally,” Mr Scobie later said.
Coronation Street actors Michael Turner and Nikki Sanderson and comedian Paul Whitehouse’s ex-wife Fiona Wightman are also named as “representative” cases for the seven-week trial.