- MICHAEL WARD told Dacre that Mail journalists had ‘burgled’ his house
- THE FORMER businessman wanted the Fleet Street titan to address the allegations at the Leveson Inquiry
- BUT DACRE never mentions the illegal theft of documents and paying prosecutions witness at the public inquiry
- DACRE HAS already been accused of misleading Leveson over phone hacking
- GIVING WRONG or distorted info to a public inquiry is a jailable offence
By Chris Allen & Graham Johnson
A BUSINESSMAN SMEARED by the Mail on Sunday warned its top brass he had “evidence of criminality” at the paper before they appeared at the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics.
Ex-banker Michael Ward has been fighting to clear his name for 25 years after he was jailed in a fraud probe sparked by MoS stories he says were libellous.
The 73-year-old has made a series of devastating claims against the paper in the High Court, including accusations that reporters stole files from his office and secretly paid trial witnesses.
Two weeks ago, we revealed how Mr Ward finally won a libel case against owners Associated News Limited for smearing him. (ANL)
Now Byline Investigates can reveal that editors of BOTH ANL’s premier titles – the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday – were aware of Mr Ward’s allegations when they were grilled before Leveson in 2012.
Mr Ward even wrote to the titles’ billionaire owner, Lord Rothermere, highlighting the alleged MoS “criminal conduct” which he says landed him in jail.
Yet none of them mentioned Mr Ward’s claims when they gave evidence to Leveson under oath.
Mr Ward, from Worcestershire, said: “This was the moment when Leveson would have wanted an admission from them.
“They had my complaint, and they had a responsibility to do something about it. Instead they hid it.”
The Leveson Inquiry took place in 2011/12 to probe press ethics in the wake of the phone hacking scandal
In the run-up to the inquiry, then ANL Editor-in-Chief Paul Dacre gave a rousing speech to a Leveson seminar slamming newsroom criminality.
“Such practices are a disgrace and have shocked and shamed us all,” said Dacre.
“They need to be purged from journalism and reforms instigated to prevent such criminal activities ever happening again.”
His words struck a chord with former nightclub impresario Mr Ward who had been accused of financial misconduct in a series of MoS stories published in the early 90s.
He had tried to sue the paper for libel.
But he says the action was undermined by his conviction for fraud after MoS reporters Clive Wolman and Lawrence Lever “stole” crucial defence documents from his home.
The pair also paid witnesses who went on to give evidence in Mr Ward’s trial, where it emerged that at least one had been offered a “conviction bonus” of £8k.
Among Mr Ward’s complaints was the extraordinary claim that City Editor, Clive Wolman, had fabricated criminal allegations against Mr Ward which he had sworn to be true in his SFO witness statement.
After hearing Dacre’s speech, Mr Ward outlined his complaint to the group Editor-in-Chief on December 15th, 2011, who in turn passed it to MoS editor Peter Wright.
Dacre had given a statement to Leveson two months earlier, writing that ANL journalists were “subject to the same legal constraints as every other citizen”.
He also assured the inquiry that journalists’ payments for news and information had been “in accordance with the law and the requirements of the Editors’ Code.”
He appeared before Lord Justice Leveson on February 6th 2012 and confirmed under oath his statement was his main evidence to the inquiry.
Wright was grilled on January 11th 2012 and stood by his own written statement that it was against MoS policy “to publish stories that are inaccurate, that involve any breach of the law…”
He also told the inquiry: “We do not make payments to people who are reasonably expected to be witnesses in criminal trials.”
Lord Rothermere gave a statement to Leveson in May 2012 – six months after Mr Ward first wrote to the media baron – stating: “…our journalists are expected to comply with the law and the Editors’ Code of Practice.”
Said Mr Ward: “I think my letters show that they entered the Leveson process with a determined strategy which was: ‘deny, deny, deny’.
“It was a clever strategy aimed at denying anything was wrong and presenting them as a clean operation.
“But there’s no argument that the senior echelons of ANL knew chapter and verse what it was I was alleging and could prove.
“Dacre had taken a holier than thou attitude, and he persisted with it.
“He kept to his script which was, ‘we’re above all this, we don’t do these sorts of things’.
“If they had been an honest newspaper, they would have put a note to Leveson saying ‘we have had one case, we’re looking at it’ – but they didn’t.”