LONDON (Reuters) - Heather Mills was quoted on Wednesday as saying a journalist at British publisher Trinity Mirror, owner of the Daily Mirror tabloid newspaper, had hacked her phone before she was married to former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney.
The accusation widens a scandal over phone hacking by British newspapers that has so far center on titles owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, with the furor also threatening to embroil U.S. talk show host Piers Morgan.
The BBC said the messages were left by McCartney, whom Mills married in 2002. The couple separated four years later.
Mills said the journalist had confronted her with details of sensitive messages left on her phone.
“He started quoting verbatim the messages from my machine, and...I’d wondered why they had already been heard, listened to, when it says ‘heard messages’,” Mills told the BBC.
The BBC said the journalist worked at the Mirror group, although Mills does not mention the journalist’s employers in the audio clip provided by the BBC.
“I said you’ve obviously hacked my phone and if you do anything with this story, because they were obviously very private conversations about issues we were having as a couple, I said then I’ll go to the police,” she added.
She went on to say the journalist admitted hacking her phone and agreed not to use a story based on the messages.
“All of our journalists work within the criminal law and the PCC code of conduct,” said Nick Fullagar, Trinity Mirror’s director of corporate communications, referring to Britain’s Press Complaints Commission industry watchdog.
Allegations of phone hacking at the News of World Sunday newspaper, owned by News Corp’s British newspaper arm News International, last month prompted the newspaper’s closure and the resignation of News International chief Rebekah Brooks.
CNN talk show host Morgan, who once edited the News of the World and later the Daily Mirror until 2004, has repeatedly denied any role in the phone hacking scandal.
In a 2006 article for Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper, Morgan said he had listened to one of Mills’ phone messages.
“Stories soon emerged that the marriage was in trouble - at one stage I was played a tape of a message Paul had left for Heather on her mobile phone,” he wrote.
The BBC said Morgan was not the journalist who had contacted Mills with details of her phone messages.
Morgan said in a statement the BBC had confirmed to him that the journalist, whom Morgan refers to as a senior executive, was not employed by the Daily Mirror. He also said he had no knowledge of conversations any other executive at Trinity Mirror may have had with Mills.
“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,” he said, describing her claims as “somewhat extravagant.”
“To reiterate, I have never hacked a phone, told anyone to hack a phone, nor to my knowledge published any story obtained from the hacking of a phone,” he added.
Mark Lewis, lawyer for victims of phone hacking by the News of the World, on Monday confirmed that he had instructions to take legal action against Trinity Mirror on behalf of other unnamed phone hacking victims.
Additional reporting by Olesya Dmitracova and Georgina Prodhan