Guardian's Nick Davies spills beans to US mag on 'illegal activity': names Observer, Sunday Times

In a frank Q and A with Adweek , the Guardian investigative journalist says he didn't foresee the impact of the Milly Dowler story, flays the "unnecessary and brutal" closure of the News of the World and says we "mustn't prejudge" Piers Morgan.

In a riveting Q & A, he says of the hacking of murdered girl Milly Dowler's voicemail, "I work from home, so I filed it up to the Guardian and I sent an email to the editor, saying, “I think this is the most powerful hacking story so far.

"So I understood that it clearly had an emotional impact, but I did not even begin to foresee this chain reaction of outcomes.

"I would never have begun to foresee that within three days News International would announce the closure of the News of the World — which incidentally I think was an entirely unnecessary, brutal, and unforgivable decision by them — I wouldn’t have foreseen that it would have led to the complete cancellation of Murdoch’s attempt to take over BSkyB."

Davies, who (supreme compliment) is described by Adweek as "the Woodward and Bernstein of hacking", was withering about the story in Metro on David Leigh, a Guardian editor who wrote an article admitting that he’d once used voicemail hacking.

"They got a cutting from a story that the Guardian published some years ago recycled it and called it an exclusive.

"I mean, that’s pathetic. That’s just so sad. Metro should hang their heads in shame for calling an old story out of another newspaper an exclusive."

Beyond that, he said, the issue was that "Fleet Street as a whole, not just the Murdoch newspapers, has been hugely involved in illegal activity "from the mass-circulation tabloids most heavily involved — then moving up to the quality Sunday newspapers.

"So the Observer, which is the Guardian’s Sunday sister paper, had a track record under a former editor of commissioning private investigators to get access to confidential databases. The Murdoch-owned Sunday Times has an appalling history of involvement in illegal activity. And it’s because they’re Sunday papers, they’re trying to get scoops that the dailies haven’t got. "

The quality dailies have the smallest involvement, he said. And the Guardian is right at that other end.

The Guardian published a story saying, ”Look, there is an example, a single example, in the past where a Guardian journalist hacked a telephone.” Good for the Guardian for being open and transparent. Bad for Metro for digging that out and pretending they’d done any work on the story.

"Look at their spiteful attempt to try and trip up the newspaper that’s been doing all the hard work. So I’ve got nothing but contempt for Metro."

He said all the focus on News International was actually a fluke. "They ran a stupid story about how Prince William had injured his knee. And the reality was that Prince William hadn’t injured his knee, but for a few hours he thought he had, and he left a message on somebody’s phone, saying, “I think I’ve injured my knee.” And so when he read the story, and his people read the story, there is only one way the News of the World could have got that.

"So that meant, because it’s the royal family, the police couldn’t ignore it, so they investigate, and then they arrest the private investigator and seize all of his material."

Of the attention that ex-Mirror editor Piers Morgan, now a CNN host is getting in the States, Nick Davies said, "I think the journalists who worked at the Daily Mirror under Piers would say that there was a lot of illegal activity going on, and so the question is whether or not there’s evidence that Piers knew about it.

"But we mustn’t prejudge it; you have to build this thing out of evidence. If some celebrity comes forward and says, “Well, I’m sure I was hacked,” that isn’t evidence. You have to prove it to us. So there’s every reason to ask questions of Piers, but we need to see evidence."

Why was Nick himself in America? He told Adweek it was possible there was an American end to the phone hacking saga, "So I’ve just come to start work on that, to see if there are any leads."

He suggested two possible questions: Did U.K.-based Murdoch journalists in America on stories engaged in the kind of illegal activity for which they were responsible in the U.K.? Did Murdoch journalists who are permanently based in the U.S. engage in that kind of stuff?"

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