Mail on Sunday Exposed Over “Plummy voice” Incident: Hugh Grant’s Phone Calls WERE Pinpointed by Hacker-linked Journo

IN THE NINTH PART OF OUR DEEP INVESTIGATION INTO CRIME AND MALPRACTICE AT THE DAILY MAIL AND MAIL ON SUNDAY, WE EXAMINE ‘PLUMMY-GATE’, THE STORY THAT SAW HUGH GRANT MAKE CLAIMS OF PHONE HACKING – AND WHICH PAUL DACRE WENT OUT ON A LIMB TO DENY. NOW WE TELL HOW THE PAPER STILL HAS A CASE TO ANSWER:

  • MAIL Editor-in-Chief Paul Dacre staked his reputation on an infamous denial, under oath, stating that Mr Grant’s phone wasn’t hacked
  • BUT new analysis of the evidence rocks Paul Dacre’s ‘Mendacious’ Leveson Hugh and Cry
  • THE notorious Mail on Sunday story about Hugh Grant in fact contained NINE suspicious mentions of phone activity
  • ITS author Katie Nicholl was involved in unlawful activity – and used the services of three phone hackers, yet;
  • PUBLISHERS Associated Newspapers continue to deny any of its journalists ever hacked phones
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By Graham Johnson

Editor, Byline Investigates

HUGH GRANT’S phone calls were targeted by a top Mail journalist with links to convicted phone hackers and illegal private investigators.

Writer Katie Nicholl mentioned private phone data no fewer than NINE times in the so-called ‘Plummy-gate’ article.

But her editor Paul Dacre did not mention Ms Nicholl’s criminal connections to Britain’s most prolific phone hackers and blaggers in his testimony to the Leveson Inquiry.

Giving wrong or distorted evidence to a public inquiry is a criminal offence in itself, punishable by up to 51 weeks in jail.

Rules: Section 35 of the Inquiries Act 2005 forbids the intentional distortion of evidence
Rules: Section 35 of the Inquiries Act 2005 forbids the intentional distortion of evidence

The exclusive story about Mr Grant immediately led to public denials of illegal newsgathering by the Mail.

However, the article clearly contained the hallmarks of the same illegal journalism that has led to numerous court claims for hacking against other newspaper groups.

Long-running litigation has led to hundreds of millions of pounds in legal costs, pay-outs, and damaging High Court judgments against publishers.

Allegation: Hugh Grant believed his private phone messages were the basis for  Mail on Sunday  story
Allegation: Hugh Grant believed his private phone messages were the basis for Mail on Sunday story

Mr Grant told the Leveson Inquiry in November 2011 he believed key information in the double-paged spread must have been hacked from his phone.

In particular, he referred to a story line which revolved around phone calls from a business contact with a posh-sounding voice, described in the text as ‘plummy’.

Royal Courts of Justice in London (inset the Rolls Building), where Mirror Group Newspapers and Rupert Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers have paid millions of pounds in compensation to hundreds of phone hacking victims
Royal Courts of Justice in London (inset the Rolls Building), where Mirror Group Newspapers and Rupert Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers have paid millions of pounds in compensation to hundreds of phone hacking victims

And new analysis of the notorious article – which was published five years earlier in February 2007 – shows no fewer than nine separate references to private phone communications; indicators synonymous with voicemail interception.

More significantly, the story is also consistent with other suspicious articles written by Katie Nicholl – particularly during that period – the number and details of which will be revealed in the future MailBOMB instalments.

Offending article: The  Mail on Sunday  story Paul Dacre was desperate to defend.  Byline Investigates  is not repeating its content
Offending article: The Mail on Sunday story Paul Dacre was desperate to defend. Byline Investigates is not repeating its content

Phone hackers, and an illegal billing data specialist, have since told Byline Investigates they supplied content for some of these dubious articles.

Yet the Mail’s editor Paul Dacre accused actor and Press standards campaigner Mr Grant of lying.

Mr Dacre publicly charged Mr Grant in an official statement of spreading “mendacious smears” – while rubbishing links between his paper and the unlawful practice.

He robustly repeated the denial under oath to Judge Mr Justice Leveson, who recalled him back to the inquiry in 2012 to explain his actions.

Now, a legal expert has said that the article is so suspicious that it would be grounds on its own to sue for damages, based on a ground-breaking legal precedent.

Sworn evidence: Paul Dacre offering his version of events to the Leveson Inquiry (inset: Katie Nicholl, author of the story that started the row)
Sworn evidence: Paul Dacre offering his version of events to the Leveson Inquiry (inset: Katie Nicholl, author of the story that started the row)

Rival news companies, which have published similar stories, have since been forced to admit their journalists intercepted voicemails to get the information.

The source told Byline Investigates: “In the current litigation (facing the publishers of the Mirror newspapers, and Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun and News of the World), this article is a classic example of the type that people would sue on, inferring that the basis for it had come from voicemail interception.

“The target of the story, Mr Grant, has himself said there are grounds to suspect it came from phone hacking. The heavy referencing of Mr Grant’s and others’ phone conversations in the piece suggest there may well be a case to answer.

This website has examined those references, in the context of comments made by Britain’s leading privacy judge Mr Justice Mann, whose landmark ‘Gulati’ judgment told how some tabloid papers disguised information obtained from hacking and illegal private investigators.

That judgment (which can be read here in full), coincidentally led to one of Ms Nicholl’s Mail on Sunday successors being sacked on the spot after Byline Investigates exposed her role masterminding industrial scale voicemail interception when she was editor of rival title, the Sunday Mirror.

A spokesman for the Mail On Sunday said:

‘There is no truth in these allegations. As we have told you before, neither Katie Nicholl nor the Mail on Sunday have ever knowingly used information illegally obtained by the convicted criminals on whom you rely in making these claims.’

Stay tuned for further revelations about the story that haunts Paul Dacre in MailBOMB Part 10, next week.

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