The former chief executive of the company behind the Daily Mirror has denied “categorically” that she was involved in any cover up of unlawful activity at the newspaper or other titles.
Sly Bailey, former chief executive of Trinity Mirror, told the High Court in London that she had no knowledge of any unlawful activity and also denied accusations she gave “misleading” evidence to the 2012 Leveson Inquiry into press standards and ethics.
Bailey was giving evidence during the ninth day of the trial of damages claims brought by the Duke of Sussex and other high-profile figures against Mirror Group Newspapers – publisher of the Mirror, the Sunday Mirror and Sunday People – over alleged unlawful information gathering at its titles, including phone hacking.
She was chief executive of MGN’s parent company Trinity Mirror, which is now known as Reach, from 2003 until 2012.
Sly Bailey denies ‘misleading’ Leveson Inquiry
In a witness statement prepared for the trial, she said: “It has been alleged in these proceedings that senior executives of Trinity Mirror including myself knew or were aware of the widespread and habitual use of unlawful information-gathering activities from at least as early as 2002 and certainly by 2007.
“That allegation, so far as it relates to me, is untrue. I was not aware of such activities while I was chief executive.
“I only became aware of them after I left the company. I am not aware that any other directors of Trinity Mirror or MGN were aware of such activities during my time at the company.”
Bailey added: “It has been alleged in these proceedings that senior executives at Trinity Mirror not only knew about unlawful information-gathering activities but failed to take any steps to stop them, and even sought to conceal them.
“It is also alleged that senior executives misled both the public and the Leveson Inquiry by falsely denying their existence.
“If it is intended to allege that I was guilty of any of these things, I categorically deny that.
“I also categorically deny lying to or misleading the Leveson Inquiry.”
Sly Bailey ‘did not know anything about unlawful activity’
During cross examination by David Sherborne, representing the duke and other claimants, Bailey said she was “deeply regretful” and apologised about the activities that took place while she was chief executive, but that she had not believed there was enough evidence at the time to conduct an internal investigation.
She told the court she was there to “put the record straight” and to explain what her role was and the role of the board, to which Sherborne said: “What you regret, is the smears to your reputation.”
Bailey replied: “That is absolutely not correct. I am deeply regretful.
“I know what it is like to have things written about you, I have personally suffered from press intrusion and I would like just to make the point again that I am deeply regretful.”
During later questions, Sherborne asked if she was aware of allegations of widespread unlawful activity at Mirror titles while she was still in charge, putting to Bailey that she had “closed your eyes and ears to it”.
She replied: “I don’t think that’s what I’m saying at all. At the time there was no evidence.
“There were stories in newspapers … I did not know anything about unlawful activity.”
Bailey also said during questioning that she had “never orchestrated a cover up of anything”.
Sherborne later asked: “Your job was to cover up all of this and to avoid it coming out at all costs, even it meant misleading a public inquiry and the markets … is that right?”
Bailey replied: “That is not true.”
Private investigator remembers ‘culture of concern’ for keeping within law
The court also heard from Paul Hawkes, a private investigator who runs a company called Research Associates, who denied using any unlawful means to gather information.
He said in a witness statement that Research Associates had “never carried out a significant amount of work for newspapers”, adding: “I was, and remain, uninterested with the world of ‘celebrity’.”
Hawkes said in the statement: “I have also been asked to explain what services I provided to the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror.
“I cannot remember the details of any specific instructions, but I do remember that the majority of our work was to locate people or, alternatively, find information that could be used to substantiate a story.
“I would only have authorised obtaining information lawfully. I also cannot recall a single instance where anyone working for these newspapers asked me to do anything that was unlawful.
“What I do remember experiencing… was the opposite, and I sensed there being a culture of concern for keeping within the boundaries of law.”
He added: “I remember that the cases given to Research Associates by MGN were very benign and we typically had no idea of the wider story.”
Harry is one of four “representative” claimants whose cases have been selected for a trial, being heard over six to seven weeks in London.
Coronation Street actors Michael Turner and Nikki Sanderson and comedian Paul Whitehouse’s ex-wife Fiona Wightman are also named as “representative” claimants.
MGN is contesting the claims over allegations its journalists were linked to voicemail interception, securing information through deception and hiring private investigators for unlawful activities.
MGN says board members have denied knowledge of such activities and claims there is “no evidence, or no sufficient evidence, of voicemail interception” in any of the four claims chosen as “representative” cases.
The hearing before Mr Justice Fancourt continues.
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