By Graham Johnson
Editor, Byline Investigates
THE MAIL on Sunday is today facing major new scrutiny over phone hacking as Byline Investigates publishes evidence linking it for the first time to notorious Fleet Street private eye Glenn Mulcaire.
Notes, hand-written by Mulcaire – twice convicted of intercepting voicemails for Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World – suggest he also targeted an author and his ex-wife for Britain’s biggest mid-market Sunday newspaper.
The Mail on Sunday – and stable-mate the Daily Mail – has always aggressively denied any involvement with phone hacking, although Byline told last week how it is now employing former Sunday Mirror editor and hacking mastermind Tina Weaver as a star columnist.
Associated Newspapers’ Editor in Chief Paul Dacre gave “unequivocal assurances” under oath about both titles to the Leveson Inquiry into Press misconduct in 2012, decrying the eavesdropping practice as “flagrantly against the law”.
Allegations that the paper had ever hacked phones, as actor Hugh Grant suggested in evidence to the Leveson Inquiry in November 2011, were described as a “mendacious smear” on the front page of the Daily Mail the following day.
Exhaustive searches for payments to Mulcaire or any known associates found nothing, the paper said.
Today, however, notes originally seized by Scotland Yard in 2006 and exclusively reproduced here for the first time, show what Mulcaire himself describes as evidence of a £600 agreement to unlawfully obtain voicemails and private phone data – the intended destination for which was Dacre’s other paper: the Mail on Sunday.
The evidence, say Mulcaire and his former Fleet Street handler Greg Miskiw, who have both spoken to Byline, includes an instruction spelt out in the private investigator’s spidery biro on a discoloured piece of plain white note-paper.
Alongside the page title “Mail on Sunday”, Mulcaire has recorded the personal private phone numbers of author Benedict Noakes and his family, numbers which Mulcaire says were illegally obtained by deception.
Byline has dated the note to July 10, 2006. At the time, the paper was intensely interested in Noakes’s friendship with Heather Mills as her marriage to Sir Paul McCartney was in difficulties.
Other notes among some 6,000 found at Mulcaire’s home and office, clearly show his tradecraft, this time on lined foolscap paper.
There are full names and addresses for Noakes and ex-wife Nicola Taylor, along with addresses, dates of birth, and tellingly, mobile telephone provider account numbers, individually assigned ‘direct-dial’ voicemail-box numbers (DDNs), and two sets of four-digit access PIN codes.
Mulcaire admitted: “Heather Mills was monitored routinely – a comprehensive and profiled analysis. Ben Noakes’ phone was hacked because he was a friend of hers.
“At the time, we were working for a lot of papers. Greg told me the information was for the Mail on Sunday.”
Greg Miskiw is a former News of the World executive and self-confessed architect of phone hacking at the now defunct newspaper, which closed in disgrace in 2011, after 168 years in print, over the scandal.
He and Mulcaire are now cooperating witnesses assisting hundreds of victims of illegal newsgathering seeking redress through the civil courts.
He told Byline Investigates how, after leaving the News of the World in 2004 to run his own independent news agency, he sold Mulcaire’s hacked information openly to trusted contacts on news and features desks around Fleet Street.
Among them was the Mail on Sunday’s Associate Editor for News and Sport, Chris Anderson, a man so senior he was effectively ‘third in charge’ at the prestigious news-brand.
The system was simple: Miskiw instructed Mulcaire to hack the phones of celebrities and members of the public, caught-up in running news stories. Mulcaire then fed the hacked product back to Miskiw, who passed it on to Anderson.
Miskiw says Anderson knew the origin of the information he received was so-called ‘dark arts’, which included voicemail interceptions, blagging (fraudulently obtaining private information such as itemised phone bills, known as “call data”) and ‘pinging’ (location by way of tracing mobile phone signals).
Miskiw said: “The information was taken off voicemails and call data, and passed on to the Mail on Sunday. Chris Anderson knew that the information was coming from the ‘dark arts’.”
Ben Noakes first strayed on to the news radar in April 2006. Miskiw wrongly suspected the writer and television producer of being involved in Heather Mills’ well-publicised marital split. But suspicion grew after he learned Noakes and then wife Nicky Taylor had been separated while he was co-authoring a book with Heather Mills.
Miskiw said: “I asked Glenn Mulcaire to come up with details of the Noakes family, and his estranged wife Nicky Taylor.
“Because I thought he and she [Ben Noakes and Nicky Taylor] were central to the Macca/Mills’ split, I contacted the MoS [to offer up the information].
“[Looking at the notes] Glenn seems to have done a comprehensive [interrogation of] Mills/Macca (McCartney’s) family/friends/business associates.
“Glenn located Nicky Taylor, presumably using pinging [as this was a standard locating technique at the time].”
Peter Wright was editor of the Mail on Sunday at the time of the illegal surveillance. Today he is Editor Emeritus at owner Associated Newspapers, and a member of the 11-strong panel currently advising the Caincross Review on sustainability in journalism, an exercise critics argue must not lead to taxpayer subsidies for powerful newspaper corporations, which are already enjoy the subsidy of 0%VAT rating on their goods.
Above Wright, Paul Dacre, took overall responsibility for all Associated Newspapers titles. Both gave denials of phone hacking under questioning at Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry, although neither mentioned, as later became apparent, that Mulcaire was known to have targeted some of the Mail on Sunday’s own staff.
Dacre told the Leveson Inquiry: “I can be as confident as any editor, having made extensive enquiries into the newspapers’ practices – and held an inquiry – that phone hacking was not practiced by the Mail on Sunday or the Daily Mail. You know that because I gave this inquiry my unequivocal assurances.”
Last night, Mr Noakes, who has in the past received damages from News of the World for hacking his phone, told Byline he was again instructing lawyers to examine the emerging new evidence.
He said: “Clearly, Mr. Dacre’s statement was inaccurate. I’m very upset that my privacy was invaded, and the information was passed on to the Mail on Sunday.”
Nicky Taylor, a former BBC TVproducer, said: “I can’t even say I’m outraged. It doesn’t surprise me at all, if this was happening at the Mail on Sunday.”
The police closed down their investigations into newspapers in 2015.
Although the Metropolitan Police told Mr Noakes about Mulcaire’s notes relevant to his activities for Rupert Murdoch’s papers, he only recently saw the ‘Mail on Sunday’ note for the first time.
Sources familiar with Operation Weeting said that by 2015, the £40m investigation lacked political will to continue investigating the crimes of Fleet Street.
One said: “Operation Weeting was initially set up to get to the bottom of voicemail interception at Murdoch’s News Groups Newspapers. It succeeded in doing this, to the extent it got cases to trial, and won some convictions.
“But then evidence of big-scale criminal behaviour emerged at Mirror Group Newspapers where the scale of that task was even greater.
“In the end there was a lot of pressure and resentment within the service because of the resources going on investigating newspapers. There was no political appetite to widen things to take in other newsgroups, like the Mail titles.”
Last night a spokesman for the Mail on Sunday and Chris Anderson responded to a series of detailed questions put by Byline.
They said: “These allegations – which relate to events twelve years ago and rely on the word of a convicted phone hacker – are utterly baseless and categorically denied.
“Neither Chris Anderson nor the Mail on Sunday have ever knowingly used information that was illegally acquired by Greg Miskiw.
“As has been widely reported, far from being the beneficiaries of Glenn Mulcaire’s services, journalists at the Mail on Sunday were the targets of his illicit activities and it was this which was recorded in his handwritten notes.”
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