LONDON, Oct 6 (Reuters) - A former reporter on a tabloid owned by Trinity Mirror has claimed the newspaper hacked into the phones of celebrities, Sky News reported on Thursday, potentially broadening a scandal that has so far largely affected Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp .
David Brown, who worked for The People before being sacked, was reported by Sky News as having claimed the mobile phones of celebrities were targeted by The People in the years up to 2006.
Trinity Mirror has said the allegation is incorrect.
Brown’s comments came in a written witness statement prepared for an employment tribunal claim for unfair dismissal against Trinity Mirror, but the statement was never used.
Sky is part owned by Murdoch’s News Corp media empire.
“A number of the methods used to pry into individuals’ lives were illegal and I have little doubt that if these people knew they had been spied upon, they would take legal action for breach of their right to privacy,” Brown was reported to have written.
The people whose phones were hacked by the Sunday newspaper, Sky said, included David Beckham’s children’s nanny and TV presenter Ulrika Jonsson.
Trinity Mirror, which also owns the Mirror newspaper, denied the accusations.
“All our journalists work within the criminal law and the PCC (Press Complaints Commission) Code of Conduct and we have seen no evidence to suggest otherwise,” it said in a statement.
It added that the “unsubstantiated allegations” taken from a draft statement had never been tested under cross examination.
Brown declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.
He was reported to have written that information had been gleaned by others from Jonsson’s mobile phone.
“This was done by ‘screwing’ or tapping Ms Jonsson’s phone’s message bank,” he is said to have written.
He said in the statement that Trinity Mirror had quickly paid substantial damages to Beckham after running a front-page story wrongly alleging the soccer star had left angry messages on his nanny’s mobile.
“It took the company less than a month to pay David Beckham substantial damages because it knew it could not produce the evidence of tapped mobile phones in any litigation,” the statement reportedly said.
Brown was fired from the Sunday tabloid in April 2006 for gross misconduct, Sky said on its website.
The statement, written in 2007, was not used because the company settled out of court with Brown and he signed a confidential settlement agreement, Sky said.
When a News of the World reporter was arrested for hacking in August 2006, a senior human resources figure “contacted executives on Trinity’s national titles to tell them that if they were asked by other newspapers or trade publications whether they had used information from ‘screwed’ mobile phones they should deny it,” Brown was said to have written.
“(The) advice indicates that a major media plc was not only allowing its staff to carry out illegal activity by, at best, turning a blind eye to it, but also taking part in an organised cover-up of that activity.”
Trinity launched a review of is editorial controls and procedures last August, and had obtained written confirmation from its current senior editorial executives that they had not engaged in phone-hacking since the introduction of an Act of law in 2000.
Allegations of hacking at its rival Sunday tabloid the News of the World led to the closure of the 168-year publication. Trinity Mirror soon afterwards said its circulation revenues had risen. (Reporting by Avril Ormsby; Editing by Jon Hemming)