• Ex-Defence Correspondent Virginia Wheeler Continued Email Contact With PI Hanks After Pop Singer’s Overdose, High Court Documents Claim
• Wheeler Allegedly Wrote Memo Containing Confidential Data about Jackson’s Medical Team and Sent It to Newton and News Editor Chris Pharo
By Graham Johnson
Editor, Byline Investigates
REBEKAH Brook’s protégé Victoria Newton was sent Michael Jackson’s ‘unlawfully obtained’ medical information, according to High Court documents.
The Sun on Sunday Editor was part of a ‘high level’ team who allegedly tasked private investigators to target the pop singer – and the doctors and nurses who treated him, in the run-up to his death.
At least two Sun executives and two senior reporters were allegedly involved in the ‘elaborate’ operation, which cost tens of thousands of pounds, and took place at least two weeks before Jackson died on June 25th 2009.
Lawyers for News Group Newspapers (NGN), the company that owns The Sun, deny or do not admit unlawful information gathering took place at the paper.
The arguments were put forward in the High Court, by lawyers representing claimants, who are suing The Sun for alleged phone hacking.
The story started when The Sun was a leaked a confidential report written by Michael Jackson’s psychiatrist Dr. Mark Hrymoc, based in Los Angeles, California.
According to statements in the High Court, The Sun appears to have got hold of the psychiatrist’s assessment of Jackson’s mental state a short while before he overdosed on sedatives and tranquilisers at his Holmby Hills home.
In order to authenticate the report, The Sun allegedly set-out to verify that the signature on the paperwork was really that of Dr. Hrymoc, and not a forgery.
According to documents disclosed to the Claimants, The Sun’s Chief Foreign Correspondent Nick Parker flew to LA to execute a plan to find out.
Parker allegedly hired an American Private Investigator called Dan Hanks to help.
NGN deny that Hanks was a Private Investigator who carried-out illegal inquiries, and characterise him as a ‘search agent’ who used lawful methods to trace the subjects of stories.
Parker and Hanks then allegedly hired a woman to pose as ‘dummy patient’ who was sent into see Dr. Hrymoc, pretending to have a psychiatric problem.
Lawyers for NGN said there are ‘no documents which support the conclusion that the ‘dummy patient’ was pretending to be mentally ill.
However, lawyers for the claimants allege, that Parker described the agent as a ‘pet nutter’, which according to them was an ‘inescapable inference …that it was not a genuine patient.’
The aim of the plan, it was suggested by the Claimants, was to get Dr. Hrymoc to sign a document for the ‘dummy patient’ which could then be compared to the signature on the Michael Jackson report.
In his skeleton argument, barrister David Sherborne wrote: ‘It appears from this disclosure that huge resources were deployed by The Sun to obtain information as to Mr Jackson’s dealings with his doctors and nurses.
‘Tens of thousands of pounds were spent on this exercise, which was sanctioned at a very high level.
‘As part of this exercise Nick Parker was sent to the US and asked to stand-up a tip that a Dr Hrymoc had written a psychiatric report on Michael Jackson (which appears to have been leaked to the Sun) by (i) verifying the doctor’s
signature and (ii) obtaining a report from the doctor on a “dummy patient” (or, as Mr Parker referred to her, “our pet nutter”.
‘Mr.Hanks appears to have sent the “dummy patient” to Dr Hrymoc, pretending that she was his employee in order to obtain a medical report from the doctor.
‘This was an elaborate blag which shows how interested journalists at The Sun were in Michael Jackson’s medical information, to the extent that they were prepared to target his doctors with unlawful information blagging.’
NGN have denied or not admitted that any such unlawful information gathering took place at The Sun.
One week before Jackson died, Nick Parker allegedly confirmed by email that the operation had been carried-out.
Parker explained that the report on the dummy patients – containing the signature – would be scanned-in by Dan Hanks and sent to The Sun, the Claimants argued.
Once the signature had been verified, journalists and editors at The Sun began putting together a story.
Their research continued on June 27th, two days after Jackson death, according to documents submitted to a hearing at the Rolls Building, in Central London.
First of all, Sun reporter Virginia Wheeler allegedly wrote a memo about Michael Jackson’s medical team.
The report was entitled ‘Mini Doc Memo,’ meaning Mini Doctor Memo, according the claimants’ lawyers.
Lawyers claim that Wheeler was in regular contact with Dan Hanks, whilst she was writing this memo.
Mr. Sherborne wrote that the memo ‘contains a precis of doctors who had treated Mr. Jackson.
‘It also contains highly specific medical information.’
Virginia Wheeler was allegedly in regular contact with Mr. Hanks, and so far 12 emails have been found between 27 June 2009 and 5 July 2009.
Once she had finished the Mini Doc Memo, Ms. Wheeler sent it to her boss Chris Pharo.
Mr. Pharo was The Sun’s News Editor and the has been repeatedly accused in High Court of unlawful information gathering, which The Sun deny.
Mr. Sherborne stated that the Mini Doc Memo ‘contains information obtained by Mr. Hanks which the Claimants allege….….was unlawfully obtained.’
Mr. Pharo then forwarded the Mini Doc Memo to Victoria Newton, The Sun’s Head of Features and Entertainment, at the time.
Three months later, Newton was promoted to Deputy Editor of NGN sister paper the News of The World, which was in turn closed down two years later for phone hacking.
Ms. Newton, who is a witness for NGN, denies phone hacking and unlawful information gathering of any kind.
However, Mr. Sherborne stated, that it was part of claimants case, that ‘senior executives such as Ms Newton were aware and encouraged the use of illegally obtained information.’
In all, The Sun allegedly targeted Jackson for a month, before and after his death.
Jackson’s overdose was eventually blamed on his doctor Conrad Murray, who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in November 2011.
More recently, Jackson has been accused of being a paedophile in a TV documentary by two men who were befriended by him in their childhood, allegations that made headlines around the world.