IN THE FOURTH PART OF OUR DEEP INVESTIGATION INTO CRIME AND MALPRACTICE AT THE DAILY MAIL AND MAIL ON SUNDAY, BYLINE INVESTIGATES CAN TODAY TELL HOW:
- MAIL on Sunday journalist Katie Nicholl used a notorious detective to target private phone numbers of at least 20 people
- AMONG them were the daughters of Sir Paul McCartney, and actresses Kate Winslet and Liz Hurley
- TWO rock legends and their families also had their ex-directory numbers accessed, while;
- A KNIGHT of the Realm and his wife were targeted – as he was ill in hospital, but;
- MS NICHOLL and the Mail on Sunday deny ever “knowingly” paying for illegal acts
By Graham Johnson
Editor, Byline Investigates
(This article has been updated with a clarification at the bottom of the story.)
FORMER star Mail on Sunday writer Katie Nicholl commissioned a shadowy private eye to obtain the private telephone numbers of at least 20 targets of the controversial newspaper, a Byline Investigation can reveal.
The 42-year-old journalist – who is today a prominent global commentator on the British Royal family and also Royal Correspondent of upmarket magazine Vanity Fair – asked for ex-directory phone numbers, which cannot be obtained legally from public sources.
Among those Ms Nicholl tasked private detective Steve Whittamore to target are the daughters of Beatles legend Sir Paul McCartney; Mary McCartney (pictured above) and Heather McCartney.
According to the most detailed examination so far of evidence seized from Mr Whittamore in a raid by the Information Commissioner’s Office – dubbed Operation Motorman – Ms Nicholl also targeted the private information of actresses Kate Winslet (pictured above) and Liz Hurley (below).
The latest revelations about Ms Nicholl’s activities while working for the billionaire-owned newspaper come two weeks after we revealed she also bought the private data of two members of actress Sadie Frost’s family, as well as those of the parents of ex-husband Jude Law.
And today we can tell how Ms Nicholl also obtained the personal phone information of the late radio legend Sir Jimmy Young – while he was seriously ill in hospital – and then wrote an intrusive story about his medical state.
Others whose ex-Directory numbers were obtained on Ms Nicholl’s behalf include the former Gladiators performer James Crossley, TV ecologist Michael Dilger, former Status Quo drummer John Coghlan, and 10cc singer Kevin Godley and his wife.
The Mail on Sunday has always insisted that Katie Nicholl has only ever used telephone numbers for “legitimate” journalistic reasons – and that she has never “knowingly” obtained them illegally.
However, Mr Whittamore – who has become a whistleblower on Fleet Street criminality – 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.”
An analysis of material seized in the 2003 Motorman operation gives an inside view on Katie Nicholl and the Mail on Sunday’s journalism at that time. It show that, in April 2002, Ms Nicholl was digging for information about the television presenter Ulrika Jonsson.
Ms Jonsson was, at that time, in the eye of a media storm, after her relationship with the then England football manager Sven Goran Eriksson was revealed by The Mirror tabloid in what Fleet Street held to be a major exclusive ‘scoop’.
That story – published under the direct editorship of Piers Morgan, who coincidentally is today a star columnist on the Mail on Sunday – has since been established as being the product of voicemail conversations hacked by Mirror journalists and published in the ‘3AM’ ‘showbiz’ column, a key strategic editorial element of Mr Morgan’s Mirror brand.
At the same time, Ms Nicholl was obtaining the private information of people with close personal connections to Ms Jonsson, included a former ‘Gladiators’ co-star, athlete James Crossley, who performed as ‘Hunter’ on the Saturday night prime time show.
Mr Whittamore used methods he today freely admits were illegal to obtain Mr Crossley’s ex-Directory number – a service for which he typically charged £75 – along with further research into the other occupants of Mr Crossley’s South West London property.
Ms Nicholl went on to write multiple stories about Ms Jonsson’s private life.
In June 2002, Ms Nicholl was investigating Kevin Godley, singer in Manchester ‘art rock’ pioneers 10cc, who went on to become a renowned music video producer, and his wife Susan.
This time Ms Nicholl tasked Mr Whittamore to perform an ‘occupancy search’ and supply the ex-directory number of the Grade 1, Jacobean-style mansion the Godleys shared in Tenterden, Kent.
In August 2002, Ms Nicholl’s had veteran BBC2 DJ, Sir Jimmy Young, and the details of a serious personal health issue, on her radar.
The late Sir Jimmy was at the time recovering from complications following hip surgery while Ms Nicholl got Whittamore to obtain two private ex-directory numbers for the house he shared with his wife Alice in Chiswick, West London.
On August 18 2002, Ms Nicholl wrote a 421-word story headlined: “Jimmy Young may have presented his last show; Radio veteran could be laid up for months following hip infection.”
Soon after, in September 2002, Ms Nicholl was focusing on Michael Dilger, a TV presenter of natural history programmes.
This time she ordered Mr Whittamore to locate the ‘ex-D’ number for his then family home in Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire.
Evidence seen by this website shows Mr Whittamore provided an occupancy search and unlawfully checked-out three ex-directory lines, ultimately provided one private number beginning ‘01920’.
Come January 2003 – and as police and the Information Commissioner were placing Mr Whittamore and his activities under their own investigation – Katie Nicholl was researching John Coghlan, an ex-drummer with Status Quo.
Mr Whittamore carried-out an occupancy search on his cottage in Burford, Oxfordshire, discovering the details of a partner, and providing an ex-Directory number with the code ‘01933’.
A few months after this tasking, Operation Motorman was fully mobilised and Mr Whittamore’s handwritten notes and log books were seized by the authorities. In 2004 he was convicted of data protection offences.
However, this did not prevent the Mail on Sunday from continuing to use his services, on at least three further occasions, details of which will follow in future MailBOMB stories.
Last night, a spokesman for the Mail on Sunday and Katie Nicholl said: “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.
“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.”
Update 15 June 2020: Byline Investigates wishes to point out, that the information in this story was NOT supplied to our journalists by any employee of the Information Commissioner’s Office, past or present. Whilst Byline Investigates never reveals its confidential sources publicly, we are able to confirm this.
· Coming soon: MailBOMB Part 5