IN THE FIFTH PART OF OUR DEEP INVESTIGATION INTO CRIME AND MALPRACTICE AT THE DAILY MAIL AND MAIL ON SUNDAY, BYLINE INVESTIGATES REVIEWS SOME KEY MOMENTS IN THE LAST THREE YEARS OF OUR WORK – INCLUDING THE DAY PAUL DACRE PERSONALLY VOWED TO SUE US… AND THEN DIDN’T
• Byline Investigates revisits our series on the Daily Mail Blagging Scandal
• Paul Dacre wanted to sue us for libel – but backed down when we stood our ground
• Byline Investigates ran the stories on Byline.com in March/April/May/June 2017
• Coincidentally, Paul Dacre stepped-down as editor after 26 years later that year
IT WAS March 17, 2017, and arguably the most powerful editor Fleet Street has ever known, the Editor-in-Chief of the almost universally feared Daily Mail, Mr Paul Michael Dacre, was threatening to sue Byline, then a still raw independent journalism start-up, for libel.
Mr Dacre was complaining about the first three instalments of a six-part investigation, published on this news site, into his paper’s use of an unlawful private investigator called Steve Whittamore.
Byline Investigates had revealed, that under Mr Dacre’s editorship, the Daily Mail and its sister paper, the Mail on Sunday, had spent £150,000 on Steve Whittamore’s inquiries – even after Mr Whitamore had been raided in connection with data protection offences in 2003.
And The Mail continued to use the notorious ‘blagger’ after he’d been charged, and after he was convicted in April 2005.
Byline Investigates pointed-out in the stories that Dacre, his top lawyer Liz Hartley, and his right hand man, the then Mail on Sunday editor Peter Wright, had not revealed these significant facts to the Leveson Inquiry.
And then, in a formal letter of complaint to Byline Investigates, all three Associated News executives claimed our articles were inaccurate.
In addition, Dacre and his advisors, stated that the implication that they had deliberately suppressed evidence to a public inquiry was ‘highly defamatory’ as it amounted to a contempt of the inquiry.
In fact, if the allegation was that the Leveson Inquiry was knowingly misled, it would be more serious than a contempt – it is specifically a criminal offence under the Inquiries Act to knowingly give wrong or distorted evidence to a public inquiry.
Byline Investigates stood by the accuracy and public interest of our stories and we quickly raised a £15,000 fighting fund from our readers – and several top lawyers worked pro-bono to defend Byline.
In short, after legal letters went back and forth, the most powerful Fleet Street Editor of modern times backed down – and he never sued.
Coincidentally, one year later, on June 6, 2018 , it was announced that Paul Dacre would be stepping down from the editorship of The Daily Mail after 26 years.
Newspaper industry bible, the Press Gazette, revealed that Mr Dacre edited his final edition two months later on August 10 2018.
One month later, in September 2018, Mr Dacre left the board of the newspaper’s parent company, the Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT), on which he served as executive director. He remains Chairman of publishers Associated Newspaper.
For the record, Byline Investigates continues to stand by the stories we wrote in 2017.
In fact, we went onto publish THREE further stories about the Mail’s use of PIs, specifically about a ‘million pound’ dossier in early summer 2017. There was no legal challenge from Dacre or the Mail.
Then, in January this year we published FOUR more stories, alleging even more serious claims – that the Mail on Sunday had used material that had actually been hacked from mobile phones. Once again the Mail did not seek to sue us for these allegations.
And we then published a further THREE stories exposing the Mail on Sunday’s new star columnist Tina Weaver for phone hacking while she had been an editor at Mirror Group Newspapers, which resulted in her immediate departure from the paper.