UPDATE 1-Mirror editor says its reporters may have hacked phones

Mon Jan 16, 2012 2:12pm EST

By Georgina Prodhan

LONDON Jan 16 (Reuters) - Showbusiness reporters at Britain's Daily Mirror might have secretly engaged in phone-hacking in the past, the tabloid's editor told an inquiry on Monday, in an admission that could embarrass owners Trinity Mirror.

Asked at the Leveson Inquiry into press standards whether phone-hacking could have been going on and hidden from him while he was the paper's showbusiness editor between 1999 and 2000, Richard Wallace replied: "It might well have been."

Trinity Mirror's Group Chief Executive Sly Bailey told the inquiry she had not seen any evidence that pointed to the use of phone hacking.

But she added that the media group had not conducted an internal investigation into whether hacking had been going on at Trinity Mirror titles, despite disclosures the practice had been widespread at Rupert Murdoch's rival News of the World.

"You haven't looked have you?" Bailey was asked by the inquiry's prosecutor.

"There was no evidence and we saw no reason to investigate," she replied.

The Leveson Inquiry was ordered by Prime Minister David Cameron last year at the height of a phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World that prompted Murdoch's News Corp. to close the best-selling Sunday tabloid.

The focus of public outrage was at first limited to the Murdoch press but concerns have grown about other titles as the inquiry has heard details from celebrities and journalists of newsgathering practices elsewhere.

The Daily Mirror has always said its journalists worked within the law.

Wallace told the inquiry he was not aware of phone-hacking on the showbusiness desk but did not always know the source of stories.

Asked whether an exclusive Daily Mirror story in 2002 about an affair between then-England soccer manager Sven-Goran Eriksson and TV presenter Ulrika Jonsson could have come from phone-hacking, he answered: "It's possible, yes."

Wallace was head of news at the paper at the time.

James Hipwell, who was a financial columnist for the Daily Mirror until he was fired for illegal share dealing in 2000, told the inquiry in December that phone-hacking had seemed to be "perfectly acceptable" to some of the senior editors.

Wallace took over as editor of the paper in 2004 after Piers Morgan, now host of a chat show in the United States, was dismissed for publishing hoax pictures that purported to show Iraqi prisoners being abused by British soldiers.

Morgan has denied phone-hacking but boasted in 2006 of having listened to a voicemail left by Beatle Paul McCartney for his future wife, Heather Mills.

Wallace said he had not heard the message nor had he heard any talk of it at the time.

Trinity Mirror says it has carried out a review of its editorial controls and procedures and has obtained written confirmation from its senior editorial executives that they had not engaged in phone-hacking or bribery.

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