In the first part of our deep investigation into crime and malpractice at the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, Byline Investigates can tell how:
- THREE phone hackers admit selling Ms Nicholl stories
- TWO private investigators admit supplying her with ‘blagged’ information
- TARGETS include PRINCE HARRY, HUGH GRANT, and CAROLE MIDDLETON
- IT COMES as Meghan Markle sues the Mail on Sunday for publishing her private letter, but;
- THE MAIL on Sunday and Ms Nicholl deny any wrongdoing
By Graham Johnson
Editor, Byline Investigates
LEADING Mail journalist Katie Nicholl used phone hacked and illegally blagged intelligence data in her high-profile newspaper column, a special Byline Investigation has discovered.
Prince Harry – whose wife Meghan Markle is suing the Mail on Sunday for alleged breach of privacy and copyright offences – is among those whose private information was targeted.
Other possible victims include the Duchess of Cambridge’s mother Carole Middleton, actor Hugh Grant, and model Kate Moss.
Former Fleet Street phone hacking conspirator turned whistle-blower, Greg Miskiw was among those supplying Ms Nicholl with eavesdropped and fraudulently obtained data.
Last night he said: “I recall offering Katie several stories, some of which would have been gleaned as a result of hacking, or other ‘dark arts’.”
Ms Nicholl, a world-renowned tabloid authority on the British Royal family, has been a powerful editorial figure at both the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday for almost 20 years.
The 42-year-old journalist, who left the Mail on Sunday in 2014 but continued to freelance for them and sister title the Daily Mail, published a number of exclusive stories originated from phone-hacking and other illegal private investigation in her gossip column.
Byline Investigates has spoken to several sources who have worked with, or for, Ms Nicholl, including a second phone hacker, Glenn Mulcaire.
Both he and Greg Miskiw confirm Ms Nicholl used the product of their work in Mail on Sunday stories.
Byline Investigates does not suggest Ms Nicholl always knew the stories were obtained illegally.
“I would not necessarily have said they (the tips and stories) were obtained from hacking or other similar activities, though I may have done so,” added Mr Miskiw, who was convicted of phone hacking offences at the Old Bailey in 2014, relating to his previous employer, the News of the World.
“In some cases, the source of the tip was obvious from the content,” he went on.
Mr Miskiw was the News Editor in charge of “dark arts” illegal surveillance at the News of the World until 2004, when he went freelance selling tips and stories to the Mail on Sunday, among other newspapers.
Mr Miskiw – later jailed for his activities at the News of the World – insists some of the stories he sold to Katie Nicholl came from illegally hacked voicemails.
Others, he confirmed, were derived from the analysis of people’s stolen – and highly private – phone billing data, and the unlawful ‘spinning’ of phone numbers to find their registrant’s name.
Both methods involved the fraudulent deception of phone companies, which provided the data, and other offences under data protection and the regulation of investigatory powers.
Ms Nicholl’s editor-in-chief Paul Dacre (pictured above) vehemently denied, under oath at the Leveson Inquiry into Press conduct in 2012, that his newspapers were involved with phone hacking.
Yet a third Fleet Street phone-hacker – speaking on condition of anonymity – also told Byline Investigates they sold ideas and articles to Ms Nicholl for her weekly diary page.
Well-placed sources, including contemporary reporters and lawyers, described as “vanishingly small” the odds a journalist of Ms Nicholl’s seniority would not insist on knowing the provenance of the stories she was paying for.
Further, there is strong ‘inferential evidence’ of hacking or blagging in various stories authored by Ms Nicholl, who has also written a number of books about Princes William and Harry and is a regular face on television discussing Royal matters.
In addition, Byline Investigates has spoken to TWO private investigators linked to Katie Nicholl’s stories.
Firstly, Ms Nicholl was a customer of former private investigator Steve Whittamore, from whom she bought at least nine illegally-obtained ex-directory numbers, according to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
Steve Whittamore told Byline Investigates: “Katie Nicholl used my services on a regular basis, mostly for ex-directory (ex-D) phone numbers and address checks.
“In my view, Ms. Nicholl would have been aware of the nature of my inquiries.”
In fact, Mr Whittamore’s inquiries were frequently illegal. Pretext blagging to obtain private data was made a specific criminal offence under the Data Protection Act 1998.
Prior to that, section 161 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 covered obtaining computer data by deception.
Mr Whittamore himself was convicted for data offences in March 2005, after an investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office called Operation Motorman.
He told Byline Investigates he used a retained sub-contractor specialist to blag phone companies.
The ex-directory phone numbers Ms Nicholl bought came from a Hell’s Angel biker who Mr Whittamore paid in cash to carry out checks, along with another veteran PI who specialised in illegal searches.
Byline Investigates has spoken to more of Mr Whittamore’s clients, who confirm that no journalist would pay a Private Investigator to simply look-up publicly available phone numbers.
A former Fleet Street source familiar with the industry’s methods and culture of unlawful newsgathering said: “It was quicker and cheaper to dial 192 directory enquiries.”
Ms Nicholl’s long-running diary column in the Mail on Sunday also published private information about Prince Harry, which may have been unlawfully derived.
Former PI Glenn Mulcaire was jailed in 2007 for hacking Princes William and Harry for the News of the World – as was Clive Goodman, Ms Nicholl’s counterpart as a Royal Correspondent at the Murdoch Sunday tabloid.
Byline Investigates exclusively revealed in October that Prince Harry is suing both the publishers of The Sun and, formerly, News of the World, News Group Newspapers (NGN), and Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and The People publishers Mirror Group Newspapers for phone hacking and the misuse of private information.
In January this year Mr Mulcaire – who is now a whistle-blower – confirmed to Byline Investigates that in 2005-6 he was supplying voicemail transcripts to the Mail on Sunday.
This was part of a separate conspiracy involving Ms Nicholl’s boss Chris Anderson and – although it did not involve Ms Nicholl directly – was nonetheless strikingly similar.
Greg Miskiw, acting as go-between for Mulcaire and Anderson, and also Mulcaire and Nicholl, was the common thread.
Glenn Mulcaire said: “The process was for me to intercept the voicemails and supply Greg Miskiw with the intel/info, that came from them.
“Then it was up to Greg to sell the resulting story tip directly to Katie Nicholl, or her boss Chris Anderson, at the Mail on Sunday.
“I knew that some material went to the Mail on Sunday, and other material to other tabloid papers.”
He went on: “In 2010, I noticed that one of Katie Nicholl’s articles was cited in some legal documents related to the civil claims (of people suing)… News Group (Newspapers) over News of the World hacking.
“It was after seeing this story that I began to remember the Mail on Sunday connection again.”
He added: “It was a simple question of supply-and-demand.”
Last night, a spokesman for the Mail on Sunday and Katie Nicholl denied any wrongdoing. They said: “These allegations rely on the word of two convicted phone-hackers and appear to be supported by no credible evidence whatsoever.
“They are categorically denied. Neither Katie Nicholl nor the Mail on Sunday ever knowingly used information that was illegally obtained by either Greg Miskiw or Glenn Mulcaire.
“As has been widely reported over the years, many journalists across a wide range of media outlets used the services of Steve Whittamore, which they understood at the time to be legitimate.”
But Mr Miskiw went on: “No newspaper is going to admit, and I include the Mail and the Mail on Sunday… to committing illegal acts.
“What they are going to do is deny it until it reaches a point where somebody presents them with substantive evidence that that happened.
“And even then they would probably say, as the News of the World did initially, (it was) a rogue reporter, or a rogue executive.”
- Coming up next week in Part 2 of the MailBOMB series – How The Mail on Sunday Spied on Britain’s “Most Hacked’ Actress