News UK CEO and Rupert Murdoch’s British supremo ‘splashed phone hack on front page’ – according to former staffer Paul McMullan
By Graham Johnson
Editor, Byline Investigates
NEWS UK Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks oversaw a front-page story knowing it was based on the hacked voicemails of a football manager and his girlfriend, Byline Investigations has learned.
The 48-year-old former Editor of the News of the World – who was acquitted of intercepting messages in 2014 – sent a senior reporter to Holland during the Euro 2000 football tournament on the strength of the eavesdropped material.
The finished article, written by the paper’s then Deputy Features Editor Paul McMullan, was later splashed – laden with numerous references to the couple’s telephone habits – on page one of its Scottish edition.
Writing exclusively for Byline Investigations in a feature-length article to be published here in full next week, Mr McMullan, 48, (pictured right at work in the NotW offices) revealed how he was diverted at the behest of Mrs Brooks from an investigation into football hooliganism in order to pursue the hacked story about Scotland’s then manager Craig Brown and television sports reporter Louise Port.
He said: “I was in Berlin following around a gang of neo-Nazi football hooligans when I got a call on my mobile from the Features Editor at the paper, Gary Thompson.
“He said to me: ‘Rebekah (NotW Editor at the time) wants you to fly to Holland and find a way to write this’. He proceeded to explain that a former Scotland football manager was in a relationship with a TV presenter and that Rebekah wanted it for the Scottish edition.
“I asked whether I needed to stand the story up (newspaper parlance for proving it was true), and he said ‘no, it’s all on tape, we know it is bang on. It’s from their phone messages’.”
Mr McMullan was then told to ring another executive for fuller details of the story – Deputy News Editor Clive Goodman, who in 2007 was arrested and later convicted for hacking the phones of the Royal family.
Mr McMullan added: “I was told to liaise with Clive. It was very unusual that the Features Department – my department – would ever work alongside the News Department, as the two were usually immediate rivals.
“This was something that would only ever happen with direct intervention from the Editor. So when Clive and I were on the phone talking about this, I knew it was only because Rebekah had ordered things to be that way.
“I think Rebekah wanted me on the job partially because I was already on the road in Germany and not far from Holland, and partially because she had just asked me to get involved setting up a new Investigations Department for the paper.
“I was still giving it some thought, so I saw me getting this story as a form of encouragement to accept the new role she was offering.”
Mr McMullan, from Dover, went on: “Clive confirmed that the story was based on the voicemail traffic of the two people involved. I was sent a transcript of the messages. My job was to turn the recorded voicemail messages into a story.”
On the basis of the hacks, Mr McMullan travelled to Amsterdam to find the then 60-year-old Mr Brown and 23-year-old Ms Port.
He went on: “I went to the hotel they were staying at and I interviewed the bar staff; the waiter who brought them room service, and wrote a colourful piece about their affair, embellishing it with bits of the tape of the recorded conversations.”
He added: “It made the Scottish edition front page, I was very pleased.”
The story when it was published in July 2000 did little to disguise the use of telephone eavesdropping.
In It, Mr McMullan ascribed the phone-hacked material as being the words of a “close friend of the couple”.
He wrote: “Louise is a mad keen Celtic fan and they just started chatting about the game. It was clear from the start that they were keen on each other. She’d ring him up constantly.
“It was during the calls to his mobile swapping information on teams and players that their romance really blossomed.
“It’s well-known Craig is a ladies’ man. He loves the company of women and when this young girl showed that she respected him and fancied him over the phone he was really chuffed.”
Mr McMullan, who was hired personally by Mrs Brooks and was a trusted £60,000-a-year editorial executive, said she knew the origin of the story was voicemail interception.
And his testimony will provoke scrutiny of Mrs Brooks’ successful defence at the Old Bailey that, while hacking was shown to be rife at the newspaper on her watch, it happened entirely without her knowledge.
Mr McMullan said: “She tricked a jury into believing she was far too above the nitty gritty of day-to-day journalism to know that phone hacking had ever gone on and certainly she had never sanctioned it and she was let off scot-free.”
He added: “Rebekah (then Rebekah Wade) was Features Editor when she made me a full-time reporter on the paper in 1995. Within four years, thanks to my total loyalty and of course doing many, many underhand things to produce about 300 stories for the News of the World, I was made Deputy Features Editor.
“It means that now I know exactly what Rebekah was told about every story that came from every illegal act, either by a private investigator we hired or by journalists themselves.
“When anybody walked into the newspaper office on Tuesday morning conference when Rebekah was Features Editor and put up a story idea her first question was, ‘where did you get it?’.
“And the journalist would then tell her, and she would demand to listen to the tape and quite often that tape would have to be transcribed and sent down to legal (department) or at least locked away with the tape in the reporter’s draw.”
Last night a second key source confirmed the story about Mr Brown and Ms Port was based on hacked material.
Greg Miskiw, the News of the World’s former Head of Investigations and self-confessed phone hacker, told Byline Investigations: “I was not involved in the mechanics of the story, although I do recall a hack.
“Clive (Goodman) was the only person on (the) News (Department) who had access to Glenn (Mulcaire). From recollection, it (the hack) was the only proof they had.”
Neither News UK, which in October is due to defend allegations of phone hacking at The Sun newspaper while Mrs Brooks was its editor, nor Mrs Brooks herself, responded to Byline Investigations’ questions about this article.
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