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Alastair Campbell: How I hacked off Piers Morgan

Protesters from the campaign group 'Avaaz' demonstrate outside the High Court with large James and Rupert Murdoch masks - Credit: Getty Images

In these exclusive extracts from his diaries, ALASTAIR CAMPBELL talks about the response to his evidence at the Leveson inquiry.

Wednesday, December 14

I was thinking a lot about losing friendships, and it wasn’t sensible. Neil and Glenys [Kinnock] after the “We’ve got our party back” comment [following the 2010 Labour leadership contest]. Maybe I just needed to forget it. David [Miliband] distant probably because he had wanted me to do more in his leadership campaign. Piers Morgan really hacked off with me because of my Leveson submission.

Nick Davies round for a chat. He felt Leveson would come up with a good report and meaty recommendations but worried the government would not run with it. He was in a bit of a state because it had emerged it was not necessarily true that the NotW deleted Milly Dowler’s messages. So some of the papers were going into kill mode on that and he was finding it hard. He was due to do Newsnight and I said he should say the main story was right, they got one detail possibly wrong, but when it came to it he floundered a bit until Jules Stenson [ex-features editor of NotW] came to his rescue by being so unpleasant.

Monday, December 19

To Grosvenor Square for a meeting. TB popped in, said the main point was the unaccountable political power, the fact that owners used their papers as instruments of power, that politicians had to go along with it to some extent because if they went into kill mode they could literally stop you getting your message through to the public.

He said he intended to be very honest about it, to make clear he did indeed court them because he knew what damage they could do. He said the problem is no serving PM could really take them on because they have so much capacity to damage and they and your political opponents combine to do real damage under the cover of claiming you are trying to stop freedom.

I said to TB it was tricky for him because they would focus on [his relationship with] Murdoch but important for any reputational rebuild. He said in terms of research we should not make it whingey but just show how e.g. he could not get any positive – or even non-hostile – coverage in the Mail, Ed [Miliband] in the Sun, GB in the Sun post-switch, Cameron in the Mirror. It was about the bias and the abuse of power.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Kelvin Mackenzie [former editor, the Sun] made a tit of himself at Leveson, not least with his (admittedly quite good) impersonation of John Major. My sense was Leveson was not impressed. Then to Waterloo for a meeting with Gerald Shamash [Campbell’s lawyer]. He said News International were taking a much more aggressive stance on phone hacking settlements.

We went through all the calls to me from News – and they related either to the time I was doing the sport series, or the time I was advising Tessa [Jowell, former Labour minister] and David [Mills, her husband] on their separation. So it was entirely possible I was being hacked then.

Tuesday, January 17

Lunch with Victor Blank [businessman, philanthropist and Labour donor]. He was in good form. He was very solicitous and interested in what I was doing. He felt I probably had the balance right and felt that I would never have another experience like the one with TB –”Most people never get to get that close to the sun and come away relatively unscathed”.

He felt I maybe should go for one more big thing but he didn’t know what. He was worried re. TB, felt he maybe underestimated the reputational hits he had taken. He was still a big supporter but he felt himself in a minority. He felt I had got myself into a better place, TB worse. He thought Piers [Morgan] had been a disaster at Leveson and that the whole newspaper industry was coming out badly.

Wednesday, January 18
Gerald Shamash called as I was getting out of the shower to say they had managed to get £20k out of News Group Newspapers for the phone hacking and they felt I should settle. I agreed. I wondered if News knew there was other stuff elsewhere and so were settling on that basis.

Monday, February 6

Watched Dacre at Leveson. He was uncomfortable and at one point his hands shook. I was tweeting away madly. For example when he said he would die in a ditch for Jan Moir’s freedom to say what she did about Stephen Gateley [the Mail columnist wrote a notorious article suggesting that the Boyzone singer’s death was “not a natural one”, despite this being the conclusion of the coroner’s report, and linking his death to his sexuality and same-sex civil partnership), I started a contest to find a ditch. Jay was pretty good and did not let him just shut things down. Dacre had lots of examples of the badness of other papers to show he was not so bad. Also clearly testy about being there to be asked questions at all.

Thursday, February 9

Paul Dacre was recalled to give further evidence to the inquiry, to answer more questions about accusations about the way he had accused the actor Hugh Grant of “mendacious smears” against the Mail titles.

Watched Dacre’s Leveson recall. It was about the Hugh Grant stuff. He wasn’t convincing but David Sherborne overdid the ham acting and it didn’t really go anywhere. Heather Mills [former wife of Sir Paul McCartney] dropped Piers in it, making clear she did not let him hear her voicemails. Also [publicist] Max Clifford was up saying I let power go to my head. All OK and set for Question Time.

Hugh Grant arrives to give evidence at the Inquiry. Photo: Ben Pruchnie/WireImage – Credit: WireImage

[Host] David Dimbleby friendly as ever. [Baroness] Shirley Williams [Liberal Democrat politician] arrived with four people. Philip Hammond [defence secretary] friendly enough. Steve Coogan and I swapping notes about how heavy to go about the Mail. We both managed to get good lines in. Ann Leslie [a writer for the Mail] just there to wind me up, Alex [Ferguson, Manchester United manager] thought afterwards. Abu Qatada up first [the radical cleric was fighting attempts to have him deported]. Then Leveson. Leslie talked about the damage Coogan and I were doing and I got a good hit in “forty years on the Mail and you talk about damage to Britain”.

Monday, February 20

Money in from Murdoch. Sent off a few cheques. All morning and part of afternoon doing media for the Panorama programme [about alcoholism]. Breakfast telly. Then loads of local radio, News Channel, off to This Morning. Usual surreal morning telly stuff. Off to Beeb again, Mishal Husain [news presenter] really nice – BBC World. Constant feedback re. Panorama. Good response. A few AA people angry that I talked of having the odd drink. I felt I had to though, as it was important to be honest. I did say though that I accepted it was a bad message.

Wednesday, February 22

I did a blog on [education secretary Michael] Gove’s ridiculous speech to the press gallery yesterday in which he said that Leveson was having a chilling effect on freedom of speech. Quite an incredible thing to do with the inquiry still going on. It all fitted with my line – reported again in the FT today – that they had a strategy to get on the side of the press v Labour on the side of Leveson. I made sure Robert Jay and Leveson saw the blog.

Monday, February 27

DAC [deputy assistant commissioner] Sue Akers at Leveson – big stuff on the extent of police corruption at the Sun. Bike then back to watch JP [John Prescott]. He did OK but Akers was the story today plus Charlotte Church £600k settlement [phone-hacking damages] and big attack on News.

Tuesday, February 28

It emerged at Leveson that the Yard lent a retired police horse to Rebekah Brooks. This would be one of those details that really stuck.

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Hear more from Campbell on the latest episode of The New European podcast.

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