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Heather Mills Challenges CNN’s Piers Morgan on Phone-Hacking

Piers Morgan, the host of CNN’s “Tonight” program and former editor of three British tabloids, was contradicted by Paul McCartney’s former wife at a U.K. inquiry triggered by News Corp.’s phone-hacking scandal.

Morgan, who has denied intercepting voice-mail messages, told the inquiry in December that while he was editor of the Daily Mirror he’d heard a recording of a 2001 phone message left by the ex-Beatle McCartney for his former wife Heather Mills. In London today, Mills said the message was obtained illegally and denied Morgan’s suggestion she leaked it herself.

“I can’t quite believe that he would even try and insinuate” in court that the message was played for him -- “a man that’s written nothing but awful things about me for years,” Mills said today. Judge Brian Leveson, who is overseeing the inquiry, called Mills as a witness after Morgan appeared via video link.

Morgan worked more than a year at News Corp.’s News of the World tabloid, where the phone-hacking scandal began, and five years at the company’s Sun newspaper. New York-based News Corp. closed the News of the World in July after evidence from civil lawsuits revealed the practice was more widespread than the company had claimed since the scandal started in 2006.

Morgan, who edited Trinity Mirror Plc’s Daily Mirror between 1995 and 2004, in his December testimony denied a lawyer’s suggestion that phone hacking was rampant at the newspaper under his leadership. Trinity Mirror has also denied such claims. Morgan now hosts a talk show on Time Warner Inc.’s CNN.

McCartney Apology

Mills said today a former Trinity Mirror employee contacted her the same day McCartney left the voice mail to say he had heard the message, in which McCartney sang to her and apologized about an argument. She said she told the employee he could only have heard it through illegal means and threatened legal action if the story ran. Robert Jay, the inquiry’s lawyer, said the employee wasn’t Morgan or anyone who reported to him.

Celebrity publicist Max Clifford, whose phone was hacked by the News of the World, said at the inquiry today that he personally negotiated a roughly 1 million-pound ($1.58 million) settlement with Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive officer of News Corp.’s U.K. unit, who has since been arrested.

The Daily Mail’s editor, Paul Dacre, returned to the inquiry today for a second time and again accused actor Hugh Grant, a spokesman for some hacking victims, of wrongfully accusing his tabloid of intercepting his voice mails to get a story about an alleged affair.

“Mr. Grant is obsessed with trying to drag the Daily Mail into another paper’s scandal,” Dacre said, again denying phone hacking had taken place at any of his newspapers.

Police have arrested about 30 people since January in three probes related to phone hacking, computer hacking and police bribery. The company said it has paid $15.6 million to settle dozens of civil lawsuits filed by victims.

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