The Wild Card That May Force Piers Morgan to Answer Phone Hacking Questions

Last Updated Aug 4, 2011 3:20 PM EDT

The chair of the U.K. parliamentary inquiry into phone hacking at News Corp. (NWS) has said CNN host Piers Morgan should go back to London to answer questions about his knowledge of the scandal. Two other British lawmakers, Labor Party deputy leader Harriet Harman and Conservative MP Teresa Coffey have also called for Morgan, the former editor of the News of the World and The Mirror, to return home to help police with their investigation.

There's just one problem: Conservative MP John Whittingdale cannot compel Morgan to return to Britain, a fact Morgan seems to know: He taunted the Brits this morning on Twitter:

The stage is set for an epic media-frenzy standoff. Will Morgan give in to calls from his homeland to tell the truth under oath? Or will he resist voluntary extradition and remain in tabloid exile, here in the U.S.? (The battle can only help his lousy ratings.)

Morgan was again linked to hacking late yesterday, this time by Heather Mills, Paul McCartney's ex-wife. She claims a Mirror reporter -- not Morgan -- quoted her own voicemails to her in pursuit of a story about her divorce from the Beatle, and was only dissuaded from publishing when she threatened to call the police. Morgan says it's all got nothing to do with him:

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. The BBC has confirmed to me that this executive was not employed by the Daily Mirror.
I have no knowledge of any conversation any executive from other newspapers at Trinity Mirror may or may not have had with Heather Mills.
What I can say and have knowledge of is that Sir Paul McCartney asserted that Heather Mills illegally intercepted his telephones, and leaked confidential material to the media. This is well documented, and was stated in their divorce case.
That statement doesn't square with his 2006 assertion that he had heard McCartney pleading with his wife on Mill's voicemails. (And if Mills was intercepting McCartney's phones, why would her voicemail be among his material?)

The wild card in all of this is James Hipwell, who worked as a financial journalist under Morgan at the Mirror. He has claimed hacking was widespread at both the Mirror and the NOTW, where it was "seen as a bit of a wheeze." He has already offered to testify. He also has a potential ax to grind against Morgan: Hipwell was imprisoned for six months after he bought and sold stocks he tipped in his business column. Morgan also did that, but was not charged.

How likely is it that Hipwell will be willing to do Morgan yet another solid, and keep his name out of his testimony?


Image: CNN.