IN THE SECOND PART OF OUR DEEP INVESTIGATION INTO CRIME AND MALPRACTICE AT THE DAILY MAIL AND MAIL ON SUNDAY, BYLINE INVESTIGATES CAN TELL HOW:
- Top Mail on Sunday showbiz journo Katie Nicholl hired shadowy private investigator to spy on actress Sadie Frost
- Ms Nicholl paid for THREE ex-directory numbers for FOUR members of Ms Frost’s family
- Ms Nicholl’s articles contained references to private phone calls, text messages, and even one about voicemails
- We have identified a HUNDRED Katie Nicholl stories containing private information, but;
- The newspaper and its publishers deny ever “knowingly” using illegal information and insist their methods, and those of Ms Nicholl, were always legitimate
By Graham Johnson
Editor, Byline Investigates
A FORMER star gossip columnist for the Mail on Sunday commissioned Britain’s most notorious illegal private investigator to spy on Britain’s “most hacked” person, a Byline Investigation can reveal.
Katie Nicholl, who continued to contribute to the mid-market-leading tabloid and its Daily Mail sister title until March this year, hired Steve Whittamore to obtain the confidential ex-directory phone numbers of Sadie Frost and her family.
Ms Nicholl taskings were made in the early to mid-2000s – a period when Ms Frost’s phone was being hacked by rival reporters at the News of the World and the Sunday Mirror – and were also ranged against the actress’s family and that of her ex-husband, actor Jude Law.
Ms Frost’s mother Mary Davidson, her sister Holly Davidson, and Peter and Margaret Law, were all targeted by Mr Whittamore’s blaggers – who obtained their personal information by deception – to enable stories about the former couple, their marriage, and friends.
Confirming the taskings, Mr 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 (illegal) nature of my inquiries.”
Last night a spokesman for the Mail on Sunday said that Katie Nicholl had never used telephone numbers for anything other than the entirely legitimate journalistic purpose of seeking interviews, and that she had never knowingly obtained them illegally.
Ms Frost and her family have yet to bring legal actions against the publisher of the Mail titles, Associated Newspapers, however she has successfully sued its rivals Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) and News Group Newspapers (NGN) for voicemail interception and misuse of private information.
In May 2015, Ms Frost was awarded record damages at the High Court in London of £260,250 plus costs against Mirror Group Newspapers for its part in the illegal hacking, blagging, and publication of at least 30 articles about her private life.
During that case, presiding judge Mr Justice Mann, described the damaging effect the widespread use of private investigators and hacking had on the subjects of tabloid news stories – and told how the origin of stolen information would sometimes be disguised in print.
He said in a landmark legal judgment: “Information that was obtained from hacking would, if published, have its source disguised by attributing the source to a “friend” or “pal”.”
He added: “This had a particularly caustic effect on the relationships of the victims. Sometimes the detail was changed so that a victim could not work out what the source was.”
Outside court Ms Frost said: “I was relieved I wasn’t going mad. The closest people to me in my life I couldn’t trust. When you lose trust in your friends, your family… it’s a very lonely place to be.”
Byline Investigates has analysed hundreds of Ms Nicholl’s articles between 2001 and 2014 and also taken testimony from Mr Whittamore, and former journalist Greg Miskiw – a convicted phone hacker – both of whom have become whistleblowers on Fleet Street criminality.
Our research has identified more than 100 articles attributed to Ms Nicholl containing private information – along with more than 100 potential victims of unlawful privacy breaches – some details of which will follow in future instalments of our MailBOMB investigation. Several of the articles refer to phone calls and text messages being made by many people in public life – including members of the Royal family.
Similar inclusions in stories in other newspapers that have been sued for phone hacking have been accepted as hallmarks of the unlawful analysis of people’s private phone billing data – supplied illegally by private detectives – and private voicemails.
It is not the first time the Mail on Sunday has been accused of illegally targeting Ms Frost. In January, we revealed how she was hacked in a separate conspiracy for the paper, based on evidence from Mr Miskiw.
Last night Mr Miskiw exclusively told Byline Investigates: “Sadie Frost is Britain’s most hacked person, bar none. This is because of the scale of the hacking, the long periods of time it took place, the number of journalists and private investigators involved and the wide variety of her associates.
“She was also hacked by all three newspaper groups, simultaneously.
“Rupert Murdoch’s, the News of the World, all three titles at the Mirror Group – the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Mirror and The People – and the Mail on Sunday, at Associated Newspapers.
“I know this because I provided hacked information about Sadie Frost to all of these publications.”
In January, we revealed how the MoS’s former third most senior journalist, Chris Anderson, was receiving emails containing undisguised quotes transcribed from the voicemails of Ms Frost’s former nanny Jade Schmidt – casting doubt on seven years of hacking denials from Associated Newspapers and its editor-in-chief (and serving Chairman) Paul Dacre.
Among the private data they contained were sensitive financial and professional employment details, along with highly confidential medical information relating to a child under the age of 16, all gleaned by Mr Miskiw and his operative Glenn Mulcaire.
Mr Miskiw said Ms Frost was of particular interest because of her central role among the so-called ‘Primrose Hill’ set of celebrities whose fashionable London lifestyles were once deemed highly newsworthy.
He added: “Myself and Glenn Mulcaire weren’t the only people targeting Sadie Frost – there were lots of private investigators doing it, including Steve Whittamore.
“She was hacked repeatedly over long periods of time because she was a rich seam of stories for the papers.
“This was partly because of her A-list associates, including people like Jude Law, (friend and model) Kate Moss and (Jude Law’s former partner) Sienna Miller.
“But because of her rock-n roll lifestyle – she was part of Primrose Hill set and their parties were wild and their lifestyles were colourful, to say the least.
“It’s no surprise that because of the scale of the hacking and blagging targeted at her, she received hundreds of thousands of pounds from Mirror Group and News Group Newspapers.”
A spokesman for the Mail on Sunday said: “As we have told you before, it is completely untrue and defamatory to suggest that Katie Nicholl, Chris Anderson, or The Mail on Sunday have ever knowingly used information that was illegally obtained by either Greg Miskiw or Glen (sic) Mulcaire.
“Regarding your latest claims, Katie Nicholl has never used telephone numbers for anything other than the entirely legitimate journalistic purpose of seeking interviews, nor has she ever knowingly obtained them illegally.”
- More follows in MailBOMB Part 3, when Byline Investigates reveals how the Mail on Sunday’s Katie Nicholl also obtained a further six ex-D numbers unlawfully for celebrities and rock stars. Read Part 1 of MailBOMB here