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UK lawmakers pressure Piers Morgan on hacking claims

CNN host Piers Morgan arrives at the BAFTA Brits to Watch event in Los Angeles
CNN host Piers Morgan arrives at the BAFTA Brits to Watch event in Los Angeles

By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) - - British lawmakers called on Thursday for CNN talk show host and former tabloid editor Piers Morgan to return to his native Britain to answer questions about phone-hacking after allegations made by the ex-wife of former Beatle Paul McCartney.

The claim by Heather Mills that a journalist had listened to voicemail messages on her mobile phone has added fuel to the flames of a scandal that has engulfed Rupert Murdoch's News Corp empire and much of the British establishment.

In an interview with the BBC Wednesday, Mills said a journalist working for British publisher Trinity Mirror, owner of the Daily Mirror tabloid newspaper, had confronted her with details of a message left by McCartney on her phone in early 2001 following an argument.

She said the senior journalist -- who was not Morgan -- had admitted hacking her phone. Morgan was the editor of the Mirror at the time.

So far, allegations about the hacking scam have been mainly limited to the News of the World newspaper, owned by News Corp's British newspaper arm News International.

The Sunday tabloid was closed last month amid public fury after it emerged that hacking victims included a missing schoolgirl later found murdered and other victims of crime.

The claim by Mills widened the hacking scandal to other titles and turned the spotlight on Morgan, who edited the News of the World from 1994-95 and the Mirror from 1995-2004.

Morgan said in a 2006 article for Britain's Daily Mail newspaper that he had listened to one of Mills' phone messages.

Trinity Mirror and Morgan, now a chat-show host for CNN in the United States, issued statements denying any wrongdoing.

"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.

MORGAN NEEDS "TO DO MORE"

Therese Coffey, a Conservative legislator who sits on a parliament's Culture, Media and Sport committee which is investigating phone-hacking, said Morgan needed to do more than simply issue statements.

Fellow committee member Jim Sheridan said it would be "helpful" if Morgan could clear up the allegations.

"If the evidence suggests the Mirror group, Piers Morgan or indeed anyone else has been involved in phone-hacking then the police have to contact them and make sure that their nest is clean," he told BBC TV.

"I am deeply suspicious that this doesn't stop at News International."

Harriet Harman, deputy leader of the opposition Labor Party, said Morgan had questions to answer and that detectives, who are probing the hacking allegations as well as claims reporters paid bribes to police for information, should leave no stone unturned.

"It's not good enough for Piers Morgan just to say he's always stayed within the law," she said in a statement.

However, the chairman of the committee told the BBC there were no plans to formally call Morgan to give evidence, and that the committee was focusing on suggestions News International executives had given them misleading evidence.

Two former senior News International figures have contradicted evidence provided by Murdoch's son James. It is likely the committee will recall him to clarify his earlier testimony.

(Editing by Peter Graff)

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