By Michael Holden
LONDON (Reuters) - Paul McCartney's ex-wife said Thursday she had not leaked a voicemail of the former Beatle begging her for forgiveness to CNN talk-show host Piers Morgan, saying the recording he has boasted of hearing had been illegally hacked.
Morgan has consistently denied he authorized the use of phone-hacking in his days as a tabloid newspaper editor in Britain. He has not offered an explanation for how he came to hear the message left on Heather Mills' mobile phone.
The accusation has dragged Morgan into a phone-hacking scandal which has damaged Rupert Murdoch's media empire and has had wide ramifications for the entire British press.
Giving evidence to an inquiry into British media ethics, Mills said she had left a house she shared with McCartney in early 2001 after they had had a row and turned her phone off.
The next morning she said she had received about 25 messages on her phone, all of which appeared to have been listened to, including one in which McCartney "sang a little ditty of one of his songs." She said she deleted the messages.
Later that day, a reporter called her to say he had heard the couple had argued and that McCartney had left a message in which he sang to her. This, she told the inquiry, could only have come from her phone being hacked.
The inquiry was told the unnamed reporter was a former employee from the Trinity Mirror Group though not from the Daily Mirror, one of the group's papers, which Morgan edited from 1995 to 2004.
Asked if she had ever made a recording of McCartney's call or had played it to Morgan herself, Mills said: "Never."
Mills, who married McCartney in 2002 and divorced six years later, said Morgan, "a man that has written nothing but awful things about me for years," would have relished telling the inquiry if she had played a personal voicemail message to him.
Giving evidence in December, Morgan, who bragged about hearing the message in a newspaper column in 2006, refused to say who had played him the recorded message of the call, saying he was protecting a source.
Morgan also edited the now defunct News of the World tabloid at the center of the hacking scandal from 1994 to 1995, though his tenure was before the practice became rife. He has boasted that he knew about phone-hacking well before the scandal broke, but subsequently said he was referring to rumors.
Morgan has written in his diaries about a "little trick" for eavesdropping on voicemails that he heard of as early as 2001.
One former Mirror employer has told the inquiry hacking was widespread on the paper when Morgan was editor, and Trinity's chief executive has said some reporters might have secretly engaged in the practice.
The phone hacking scandal shook Britain's police, who were accused of failing to investigate allegations that Murdoch's News of the World tabloid had hacked into the phones of thousands of people, including celebrities and murder victims to get stories.
It was also an embarrassment for British Prime Minister David Cameron, who had hired a former News of the World editor as his spokesman.
(Editing by Andrew Heavens)