IN THE ELEVENTH PART OF OUR DEEP INVESTIGATION INTO CRIME AND MALPRACTICE AT THE DAILY MAIL AND MAIL ON SUNDAY, WE ANALYSE ‘PLUMMY-GATE’, THE STORY HUGH GRANT SAID MUST HAVE BEEN HACKED – AND WHICH PAUL DACRE SWORE ON OATH WAS NOT. HERE WE CONTINUE TO TEST THOSE DENIALS BY LOOKING AT THE NUMBERS, WHICH SHOW:
- NINE total references to phone activity in the story about ‘Plummy-voiced’ woman
- THIRTY suspect stories written by the same author and containing the language of hacking and blagging
- 174 stories laden with private information of members of the public and other
- YET Hugh Grant was accused of lying over story written by reporter Katie Nicholl – who we have now exposed for unlawful information gathering, while:
- LEADING legal source reveals Ms Nicholl’s article is so suspicious it merits legal action
By Graham Johnson
Editor, Byline Investigates
THE PATTERN of criminal activity behind a controversial Mail on Sunday article about Hugh Grant can be revealed today by Byline Investigates.
Last week, in Part 9 of our MailBOMB series, we told how former star writer Katie Nicholl’s links to Britain’s most prolific phone hackers and blaggers.
Now we shine light on the tell-tale clues running through the article – and which make it one of the most suspicious ever published by the Mail on Sunday, whilst Paul Dacre was Editor-in-Chief and Executive Director of the parent company.
The story, about a ‘plummy’ voiced woman, made FIVE dubious references to specific calls, to and from the actor’s mobile phone.
A further TWO references were made to Mr Grant switching-off his telephone – details consistent with the unlawful accessing of his voicemails, according to well-established legal precedents.
It is possible to identify when a mobile phone is switched off through phone hacking, or the acquisition and examination of phone billing data, both of which are criminal offences in the United Kingdom.
Alongside this, there are TWO more references to phone calls in the story.
These tell-tale clues – which we will detail in full next week – are considered classic hallmarks of ‘unlawful information gathering’, similar to those Byline Investigates has found in at least 30 articles attributed to Ms Nicholl.
The hallmarks have been established by lawyers and Britain’s top privacy judge Mr Justice Mann in two long-running litigations involving the Mail on Sunday’s news-stand rivals, with which it competed directly for stories every week.
And as many as 174 of Katie Nicholl’s stories – published during her 14-year tenure at the Mail on Sunday, of which Mr Dacre remains Editor-in-Chief – contain suspicious levels of private information.
Several similar stories were written about phone calls and texts relating to the private life of Prince Harry over NINE years period of Ms Nicholl’s journalism, as revealed in MailBomb part 3.
The storm over the story – headlined ‘Hugh, Drew and the Jealousy of Jemima’ – became known as ‘Plummygate’ because the article made references to a ‘plummy-voiced’ woman to whom Mr Grant had allegedly spoken on his mobile phone.
Other lines in the story, published at the height of Fleet Street’s phone hacking activities, referred to a phone call between Mr Grant and his then partner Jemima Khan, and another made by Ms Khan to her mother.
The story has since gone down in Fleet Street infamy after it led to a heated public dispute between Mr Grant and Mr Dacre after Mr Grant told the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics he strongly suspected the double-page spread contained phone-hacked material.
In response, Mr Dacre issued a statement to allege the star of Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love Actually was spreading ‘mendacious smears’.
At the time, Mr Grant could not prove his allegation – because the extent of Ms Nicholl’s links to data theft and criminal newsgathering were unknown.
The star of Notting Hill was completely unaware of a pattern of illegality in Ms Nicholl’s work history, and that her stories were littered with references derived from unlawful information gathering.
Nor did he know that Ms Nicholl had been regularly supplied with information by at least three phone hackers – and an illegal private detective, as revealed in MailBomb Part 1.
A key contact of Ms Nicholl’s, Greg Miskiw, and his private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, were later jailed for phone hacking – while another PI, Steve Whittamore, was convicted of data protection offences.
Mr Grant was further disadvantaged in his dispute with Mr Dacre, as he did not know Ms Nicholl had similarly targeted other victims, including Sadie Frost and Sir Paul McCartney, as revealed in MailBOMB parts 2 and 4.
Byline Investigates has previously spoken to legal sources, who say there are enough suspicious references in the Plummygate article to warrant legal action.
To date, Associated Newspapers has never faced a phone hacking claim in a courtroom – and it is not known whether it has settled any such complaints confidentially out of court.
But this week the expert said the story raised serious questions about the aggressive positions of denial and attack that Mr Dacre and his publisher Associated News have adopted, particularly when considering revelations of phone hacking at other papers involving journalists with links to the Mail.
The expert legal source said: “It is surprising that Paul Dacre decided to label Mr Grant’s remarks at Leveson as ‘mendacious smears’ given the amount of material Byline Investigates has uncovered so far.
“It does raise the question about what was done at the Mail at the time of Leveson, or since, to investigate the newsgathering techniques employed by their papers during a time when their rivals were heavily into unlawful information gathering, private investigators, and phone hacking?
“Particularly so, as some journalists from those papers in the Mirror group and News group practising those techniques there – where these practises were systemic and institutionalised, according to the findings of Mr Justice Mann – have also worked at the Mail titles.
“It would be surprising if they did not continue with their usual practices at other papers they went to during the period (covered by litigation), which spans from at least 1994 to 2011.”
“Of course, this story would have been revisited at Leveson Part 2, had it not been cancelled – so there would have been a public inquiry into the genesis of this article.”
The Editor of the Mail on Sunday at the time was Peter Wright – the executive who ran the paper’s day-to-day operations.
However, Mr Wright’s overall boss was Paul Dacre, who had been appointed Editor-in-Chief of all Associated News newspapers nine years earlier in 1998.
In the same year, Mr Dacre was also made Executive Director of the Daily Mail and General Trust, the hugely-profitable parent company that owns the Mail on Sunday.
However, the Mail on Sunday deny that Mr Dacre has ever edited the Mail on Sunday, or that he published the ‘Plummygate’ story, as stated in the first version of this story.
A spokesman for the Mail on Sunday said: ‘The standard of accuracy of your story can be judged by the fact that it says the ‘plummy-voiced woman’ article was published by Paul Dacre. For the record Mr Dacre has never edited the Mail on Sunday, nor did he have any involvement whatsoever in publication of that article. Neither Katie Nicholl nor the Mail on Sunday have ever engaged in phone-hacking. Associated Newspapers has never received or settled any claim for damages relating to phone-hacking, either confidentially or otherwise.’
Mr Dacre, on behalf of the Daily Mail and its sister paper the Mail on Sunday, has strenuously denied any connections to phone hacking.
Its publisher, Associated Newspapers, does accept it made extensive use of Steve Whittamore, but says it did not know he used criminal methods to obtain information for its journalists.
Similarly, Katie Nicholls has denied knowingly using any information gathered by phone hacking or any other unlawful information gathering techniques.
Both Ms Nicholl and the Mail on Sunday have previous told Byline Investigates they only used the information for legitimate journalistic practises.
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.”
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- Meanwhile, stay tuned for MailBomb Part 12 – in which we analyse the nine specific mentions of phone calls in the Hugh Grant story