Read Piers Morgan Online

Authors: Emily Herbert

Piers Morgan (15 page)

It was in the midst of all this that Naomi Campbell finally won her case at the House of Lords, but Piers had much more to worry about than that, including increasing calls for his resignation if the pictures turned out to be fake. While he responded with all his usual bombast, the end was near. And it made no difference that the
itself was in the headlines for no less than three reasons – the Campbell case, the Buckingham Palace security row and now the Iraq abuse pictures – if Piers, as editor, couldn’t prove that what he had printed was real, then he would find himself in serious trouble.

In what would turn out to be his last big interview as editor of the
Piers talked to the
about why he had published the pictures and his belief that they were genuine, as well as the allegation that he had put the lives of British soldiers at risk. ‘You have to look at this as two separate issues,’ he insisted. ‘One is the issue of the veracity of these photographs, and the bigger issue is
whether the events happened. I have no doubts that the abuse has been very widespread and very serious by these rogue elements and the testimony of Soldier C [who told the
last week of ill treatment] is compelling and very significant. He didn’t ask for or receive any payment. The Government and the British Army have had a week to verify or knock down these photographs, and they have been unable to do either.

‘That shows we took every step we could [to check the pictures]. I believe there is nothing irresponsible in publishing if you are confident of your sources, you know they are who they say they are, you know they were in Iraq at that time and they are providing you with a welter of photographic evidence, not just what we published, showing what they were up to. They are very convincing, ordinary soldiers who felt they had to come forward. I resent the way it is now assumed by the media that these must be fakes purely because last weekend was a long bank holiday and people have nothing else to do but wheel on ex-military guys and say, “I don’t think those shoelaces look right.” That is not good enough.’

As for the almost complete lack of identifying marks, he remained bullish. ‘They’ve clearly gone to some lengths to ensure that if these pictures ever become public there is no identification. That is a simple, logical explanation.’ And then there was the fact that his own brother was serving in Iraq. ‘I won’t go into what he thinks or feels about any of this because that is a matter for him, and I wouldn’t compromise him,’ he insisted. ‘But that should show
people how carefully I have thought about this and the consequences. I have a lot of military people in my family and I have taken soundings. What really irritates me is the allegation that we have caused massive problems for the troops on the ground in Basra. That is completely untrue. I say to people like Nicholas Soames that what has put our soldiers’ lives at risk is a) waging this war in the first place, and the
’s position on that is well known, and b) the behaviour of this rogue element of the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment. It is that that has caused the problem, not this belated exposure in this country.’

It was to be his last hurrah – in that particular role, at least. On 13 May 2004, Adam Ingram stated the type of truck featured in the pictures had never been in Iraq and the pictures were plainly false. The next day, Piers had no choice but to resign. Following his resignation, the
issued a grovelling apology, saying it had been ‘the subject of a calculated and malicious hoax’.

Meanwhile, the Mirror Group commented, ‘The Board of Trinity Mirror has decided that it would be inappropriate for Piers Morgan to continue in his role as editor of the
Daily Mirror
and he will therefore be stepping down with immediate effect. There is now sufficient evidence to suggest that these pictures are fakes and that the
Daily Mirror
has been the subject of a calculated and malicious hoax. The
Daily Mirror
therefore apologises unreservedly for publishing the pictures and deeply regrets the reputation damage done to the QLR [Queen’s Lancashire Regiment] and the Army in Iraq.’

printed a huge front page:

There was a palpable sense of shock when Piers stood down. Love him or loathe him (and there was no shortage in both camps), for more than a decade now, he had been an impressive player on Fleet Street. A character and sometimes a chancer, he was hugely talented and had had a great input into the fabric of the nation. Whatever others may have thought about him, it is telling that those who worked for him tended to be some of his greatest admirers and he was extremely popular among the staff. Of course, alongside the incessant feuding, he’d made plenty of enemies along the way – no national newspaper editor can do otherwise – and there were plenty of others gloating about his fate. The situation was also in some ways a let-out for the
. Although no one had been in any doubt that Piers was a class act, his anti-war stance had proved massively unpopular with readers and, while Mirror Group bosses would have found it difficult to get rid of him on those grounds, it was a good chance to start afresh. Now they could tone down the anti-war rhetoric without loss of face to anyone, for Piers was stepping down not on the grounds of his dislike of the War but because he’d made a terrible mistake.

To begin with, at least, it was unclear what he would do next. He was to negotiate a very healthy pay-off from the
(and he had been extremely well paid for many years by then, so money wasn’t an immediate problem – although he did have an estranged wife and three children
to support). But he was not yet forty, and the loss of status and power came as an enormous shock. His mentor Kelvin MacKenzie has spoken of his own surprise at the number of unreturned calls after he stopped being an editor and Piers now began to discover the same thing. A national newspaper editor is one of the most powerful people in the country – there are a handful of them, as opposed to over 600 MPs – and Piers had proved adept at setting the agenda over and over again. Without a newspaper, he could no longer do that and, as such, no one was all that interested in what he had to say.

And the change in lifestyle was immense, too. As an editor, every minute of the day was accounted for; as well as putting the newspaper together, there was the constant round of lunches, drinks and dinners with the movers and shakers of this world: award ceremonies, black-tie dinners, the works… Suddenly, he was at a loose end – and very unexpectedly, too. There were no demands on his time and he could come and go as he pleased. It was a new sensation, and an unpleasant one at that; Piers does not have the kind of personality to make him curl up in a heap when things go wrong but this came as very much a shock.

As he himself told it in later years, he did a number of things. A slight and uncharacteristic aimlessness entered the proceedings: the odd boozy lunch because he had nothing else to do, afternoons spent idling as it was not clear what would come next. In the meantime, in one of those freak examples of irony, it was announced that the four-year investigation into his share dealings by the
Department of Trade and Industry had come to an end and he was completely exonerated. ‘I always believed my name would be cleared,’ said Piers. ‘I may be unemployed, but I’m not a crook.’

Richard Wallace was named as the new editor of the
– Piers really was Fleet Street history now. But you don’t get to be the youngest newspaper editor for a generation without something to back it up and, while he was in this curious state of limbo, a few wheels started to turn. For a start, Piers began to write his memoirs; he had, after all, been at the centre of the action for many years and he might as well share his experiences. The deal was thought to be worth about £1 million, while it was reported that he received a further £1.7 million pay-off from the
. (Piers later claimed it was much more than this.)

He began to gather himself together. Did he regret his anti-war campaign? ‘Absolutely not! History will judge the
’s campaign on the Iraq War as one of the strongest, bravest and best campaigns that any newspaper ever waged against anything ever and I believe that passionately,’ he insisted, and, although the jury is still out, he may well have been right. ‘When you look at it now, there is a very sound argument for putting him [Saddam] back – and how believable is that?’ he continued. ‘Armed fighters are swarming all over Iraq. We have devastated the region beyond any repair in the short term at all. None of this was going on while Saddam was in charge of things.’

And what of the pictures, did he regret publishing them? ‘I regret it being the cause of my departure. I regret the fact that everyone thinks I was some naive idiot who was easily duped. I certainly resent that allegation, because a lot of people believed that they were genuine. The British Army believed they were genuine when they saw them, the Government believed they were genuine. I don’t resent the fact that they let me go. I always wanted to go out with a bang anyway, and you certainly couldn’t go out with a bigger bang than that – bigger than the Queen Mother – rather than falling sales and two paragraphs on page 23,’ he insisted.

And, in October of that year, a part-time soldier – a private in the Territorial Army – appeared before a Court Martial, accused of perpetrating the hoax.

Piers’ forthcoming memoir looked set to be a success. For more than a decade now, he had been at the centre of events and had met pretty much everyone, from show business to politics. ‘I am not going to betray genuine confidences and I am not going to stitch people up who I don’t think deserve stitching up, but lots of people have betrayed my confidences and lots of people have treated me pretty badly over the years – and I have no compunction at all in settling those scores in terms of revelation,’ he said. ‘It would be pompous to say it is historical, but it is certainly an interesting insight into what went on and how he [Tony Blair] changed, and Gordon Brown and the other cabinet ministers rose and changed.’

He was typically bullish about his time at the paper,
too. ‘Looking back on the
, of the twenty biggest tabloid stories of the past decade, the
probably had fifteen of them,’ he told one interviewer. ‘We carried on breaking huge stories, punching way above our weight journalistically, while unfortunately punching way below our weight financially.’ He also recognised that his serious news agenda hadn’t worked. ‘I really thought that we were on to something – serious popular journalism – and it was some of the best popular journalism I was ever involved in,’ he admitted. ‘We won all the awards and everyone thought it was brilliant – apart from the readers. The masses decided it was too much for them and they turned away from it. It is a huge regret to me.’

And as for the anti-war stance: ‘Eighty per cent of the British public were against the War before it started, yet, once it started and was on TV every day and became like this glorified, horrible video game, the patriotism kicked in. We had been just as critical of the Afghanistan War without any problem at all, so I was slightly emboldened by that and I didn’t think we would have anything like the problem we had. Television was the difference.’

And so it was to prove in his own life. As he began to explore his next options, despite a long history of print journalism, he clearly began to realise that his future lay in television. Indeed, with hindsight, it almost looks as if he was preparing for a jump into another medium, although at the time he was just casting around for new projects. Gradually, it all began to take some kind of shape. In 2005, it was announced that he would be presenting
while Phillip Schofield was on leave. A new life was slowly beginning to take shape, although this was never without its moments – once on
This Morning,
Piers inadvertently sparked fears of another terrorist attack, speculating about an atrocity in the run-up to the US presidential elections, while not realising that he was broadcasting live on air.

‘I tell you what, I would brace yourselves for something in the next few days,’ he told Fern Britton.

‘Why?’ asked Fern.

‘I just think that al-Qaeda, with an election – I think they have been waiting for the election.’

At this point, the producers managed to let the presenters know their discussion was going out live on air.

‘Good morning!’ said Piers hastily. ‘On today’s show…’ But he was cut off as time ran out.

A quarter of an hour later,
This Morning
actually began, with some embarrassment all round. ‘I want to put everyone’s minds at rest: we had a live television slip-up earlier where we usually do our promotion for the show and it goes out live, as a lot of you saw, and we didn’t realise we were live,’ admitted Fern. ‘Don’t panic, nothing is about to happen.’

‘We were getting quite political and I was expressing that there had been a CIA report yesterday that was leaked, that they were worried about a terrorist attack in America before the US election,’ added Piers. ‘I don’t know anything, so, if any of you are worried that I have any inside information about any terrorist attack, I don’t.
I hope that clears that up – we were just having a little private conversation. It’s nothing new, there have been loads of rumours and speculation, but I’m sure nothing will happen.’

‘That’s something that you don’t have to be a spy to understand, that possibly with an election coming up something may happen,’ added Fern.

‘Trust me, nobody tells me anything any more,’ insisted Piers.

In November 2004, he teamed up with the journalist Amanda Platell to present a political talk show, in which he would represent left-wing politics (not necessarily his natural stance, despite his editorship of the
), while she would judge proceedings from the right. It was meant to be serious television but the two never quite gelled, the show didn’t exactly take off and it was judged a disappointment. It limped on for another two seasons, while failing to make a splash, but it made its mark on one person at least.

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