What they want to track down is the source of a document purporting to be a dossier of hacking by Mirror journalists – and reported on by me and others. It was prepared, I was told, by shareholders frustrated that the company was not taking the allegations of hacking seriously enough.
I have no idea if the contents are accurate. Apparently, it was sent to senior executives at the company. Again, I don’t know if they even received it or acted on it. What’s clear to me, however, is that the police are serious. As far as I can ascertain, they’re affording the Mirror claims the same attention as those against News International. In a civil case brought on behalf of eight people, whose mobiles Mirror Group Newspapers titles have admitted hacking, evidence has been heard of the "industrial scale" of the activity at the papers. That case was to determine the level of damages the eight may claim.
If I were a shareholder in Trinity Mirror, the parent, I’d be more than a little nervous. So far, the company has put aside £12 million to pay for the likely hacking cases. But if the volume of them is anything like those brought against News International, that surely cannot be enough. Estimates vary as to how much hacking cost Rupert Murdoch – but a figure of about £300 million seems about right. Murdoch’s pockets, however, run far deeper than those of Trinity Mirror. Anything approaching that level could be disastrous for the group.
'MGN executives repeatedly denied their journalists were hacking. Were they in denial or simply misinformed?'
If I were a shareholder, I might also be more than a little angry. Fleet Street was awash with rumours around hacking and the Mirror newspapers for years. It was hard to imagine that News International staff operated in isolation, and even more difficult to conceive when the career paths – criss-crossing between MGN and News International newspapers – of some of the names being mentioned were considered.
As more and more came out about hacking, the idea that it was the preserve of Murdoch employees only appeared increasingly ludicrous. But MGN executives – not the Trinity Mirror chief executive, Simon Fox, who has come to this late in the day – repeatedly denied their journalists were hacking. Were they in denial or simply misinformed? Had there been a cover-up somewhere?
What’s obvious is that the police are not backing down. Even if they wanted to – and you have to suppose there are more exciting jobs as a police officer – they couldn’t. To do so would incite Murdoch to claim he was singled out unfairly. Anxious days are ahead for Trinity Mirror.
Chris Blackhurst is the former multimedia head of business at The Independent and London Evening Standard