IN THE first part of this new investigation into criminal newsgathering, we told how Rebekah Brooks, the most senior serving British employee of Rupert Murdoch, kept Prince Harry under illegal surveillance for a year when he was a child. Now in Part Two of the ‘Triple Whammy’ series, we look at the extraordinary soft power Ms Brooks brought to bear on the then 16-year-old prince and Buckingham Palace to legitimise her highly dubious tabloid operation.
By Graham Johnson
Editor, Byline Investigates
THE FIRST whispers of a ‘Royal drugs story’ reached Rebekah Brooks in February 2001.
Rumours were washing up in the News of the World Editor’s glass-walled Wapping office that Prince Harry, just 16, was drinking underage and had dabbled with cannabis.
The unlikely focus of the gossip was a Cotswolds pub called the Rattlebone Inn, close to Prince Charles’ Highgrove country home, near Tetbury, Glocs.
To the scandal-hungry tabloid, the lure of a story about the then third-in-line to the throne of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth getting high on weed was obvious.
And despite the fact his private life – while still in education at least – was officially off limits under an agreement between Fleet Street and its self-regulator, the Press Complaints Commission, Ms Brooks’s interest was piqued.
But Rupert Murdoch’s hand-picked choice to run the best-selling newspaper in the English language had a problem – a total lack of evidence.
So, to try and bridge the evidential gap, Ms Brooks turned to her trusted News Editor Greg Miskiw – a man steeped in the ‘dark arts’ of covert surveillance and voicemail eavesdropping.
Mr Miskiw later admitted his part in hacking Royal phones, going on to become a whistle-blower on an area of tabloid criminality his former boss denied all knowledge of – under oath and on penalty of perjury – at her criminal trial in 2014.
Now, he is giving first-hand insight into Ms Brooks’ triple whammy of tabloid surveillance and sting tactics, a deceitful war of attrition with Palace gatekeepers, and personal influence over a tame industry watchdog, to manufacture a seven-page story on Harry while he was still in his GCSE year.
Pivotal to the strategy was Ms Brooks’s influence on Mark Bolland, the future King’s communications chief, with whom – along with his partner Guy Black – she was friendly enough to holiday together in Tuscany.
Ms Brooks repeatedly pressurised Mr Bolland to ‘stand up’ her story, having cultivated their friendship during his five years as press chief to Prince Charles and his children, whom – as minors – he also acted for.
It is not known whether Prince Charles knew of the potential conflict of interest caused by this friendship, nor whether the palace knew how far it antagonised rival tabloid editors, further complicating the job of protecting Princes William and Harry from Press intrusion.
Mr Miskiw said: “In the mid-90s, the tabloids did a deal with Prince Charles not to publish gossipy stories about Harry and William, while they were in their teens and in education.
“This opened the door for Rebekah to get close to people like Bolland. She liked to get close to powerful PRs.”
The broker in this new relationship was the newspaper industry’s self-regulatory body, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).
The PCC was the ‘watchdog’ with a brief to keep Britain’s infamously unruly Press in check and enforce protection of the young princes’ privacy while they were still in school or university.
And its Director was Mr Bolland’s partner (and today spouse) (Lord) Guy Black.
JUST AS Rebekah Brooks was quietly locking on to Prince Harry, she met the other actors in her developing production at one of the most powerful and significant social events of the year.
For in February 2001, the PCC used a big tenth anniversary party to mark the supposedly improving relationship between the papers and the Royal family, since the paparazzi-related death in August, 1997, of the Princes’ mother Diana, Princess of Wales.
The event was seen as a Royal endorsement of a system that put the PCC between Buckingham Palace and the Fleet Street machine, controlling invasions of privacy, in return for managed access including photo-calls at milestones in the princes’ lives.
Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles attended, as did Prince William, to show their support for the industry-funded self-regulator. So too did Ms Brooks, Mark Bolland, and Guy Black.
This noticeable public stepping out together contributed to questions about the PCC’s credibility.
Critics asked whether Mr Bolland should be so closely connected to Ms Brooks, editor of one of the main newspapers his PCC was “independently” policing, while his partner was also media manager of one of its top front-page targets.
Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore attacked Brooks’s closeness to Mr Bolland and Guy Black. He complained the cosy relationship helped her corner and deliver up a vulnerable Prince Harry, with Moore even calling the PCC a “stitch-up”.
Greg Miskiw confirms a carrot-and-stick approach from Ms Brooks. She charmed Mr Bolland, he said, with friendship and camaraderie, while forcing his hand with trumped-up evidence she (wrongly) claimed compromised the young Prince.
Speaking to The Guardian in October 2003, Mr Bolland offered his own view on the News of the World’s hectoring of the princes, even during the moratorium on intrusion into their private lives.
He told Guardian Media reporter Ian Katz: “We had been wrestling every two weeks for about nine months with several newspapers, principally the News of the World, on stories about William and drinking and/or drugs, all of which were untrue, and then Harry – drinking and drugs – as well.
“We were going to the limits to stop newspapers writing things about Harry.”
And as we will be revealing in forthcoming instalments of this series, the PCC played a crucial role in protecting the Brooks exclusive over the next year of its investigation.