Press abuse victim says his newspaper corruption warning was ignored by government

  • BUSINESSMAN SMEARED by Mail on Sunday is believed to be one of the first to blow the whistle on “illegal” information gathering
  • HE WARNED the then PM John Major in 1995 that the press was “out of control”
  • MICHAEL WARD SAYS FAILURE to act paved the way for the phone hacking scandal
Prime Minister John Major during a tory party conference. (Alamy)

By Chris Allen & Graham Johnson

THE GOVERNMENT WAS warned about newspapers corrupting criminal investigations 16 years before the issue was raised at the Leveson Inquiry.

Former businessman Michael Ward has sensationally claimed the Mail on Sunday hijacked his fraud prosecution in the mid 90s by ‘stealing’ vital defence papers from his home.

He wrote to then PM John Major in 1995 warning how condoning press meddling “would have the most serious consequences for public confidence in the criminal justice system.”

His complaint draws stark parallels to former MET police officer Jacqui Hames’ accusation that the News of the World corrupted the Daniel Morgan murder inquiry.

Jacqui Hames, counsellor, former Crimewatch presenter, and Hacked Off board member
Daniel Morgan, whose unsolved murder was featured in recent C4 Documentary “Murder in the Car Park”

Said Mr Ward, who won a libel suit against MoS publisher Associated Newspapers in May: “Without a doubt, there was a connection between my experience with documents, and the laissez faire approach that followed.

“The prevailing wisdom uniting politicians and lawyers at the time was that this creature, the press, was an uncontrolled, malignant force.

“They would roll their eyebrows – but they did not want to tackle it. It was too deep.”

The Mail on Sunday confessed in May that its journalists did indeed remove documents from Mr Ward’s Belgravia townhouse without his permission.

He says the dubious methods used by two MoS reporters show malpractice and unlawful information gathering were rife in the newspaper industry in the 1990s.

And he believes the failure of John Major’s government to act on his concerns paved the way for the phone hacking scandal which exploded ten years later.

Michael Ward featured in Leisure Week, August 10th 1990
‘Tarnished Midas’, written by Lawrence Lever for the Mail on Sunday, April 5th 1992

The former multi-millionaire headed up a vast nightclub empire in the late 80s and early 90s as CEO of European Leisure Ltd.

In 1991 he tried to sue the MoS over articles accusing him of financial misconduct.

The stories led to his business affairs being probed by the Department of Trade and Industry and the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).

In March 1995 he was prosecuted over an illegal share support scheme – a conviction which he claims was aided by MoS reporters TWICE removing defence papers from his home.

Still reeling from his trial, Mr Ward wrote to then Home Secretary Michael Howard pleading for his case to be investigated.

“My rights to a fair investigation and trial process have been violated by acts of theft and bribery and the course of public justice has thereby been perverted,” he wrote.

He hand-delivered copies of his damning dossier to PM John Major at No.10 and also to the Attorney General.

It detailed how former MoS Financial Editor Lawrence Lever entered his home in March 1992 while he was overseas and “removed hundreds of documents”.

It also explained how the paper’s City Editor Clive Wolman paid a domestic employee “for the removal of further documents.”

Recalling the 1992 incident, Mr Ward told Byline Investigates: “I was in France when I got a call from my secretary explaining that she’d been to my house and discovered it had been ransacked.

“My filing cabinet was open and a number of documents had been taken.

Michael Ward, in an interview with Byline Investigates

“A story had appeared in the Mail on Sunday that weekend and it was obvious to me that somehow they’d got hold of my papers.”

Mr Ward said suspicion initially fell on his ex-wife.

“But when I confronted her, she told me the Mail on Sunday’s Lawrence Lever had taken my documents away,” he says.

“It just seemed inconceivable that a newspaper would come to my house and rip documents out of my filing cabinet. I felt violated.”

The Independent covered Michael Ward’s first conviction in September 1995
The Irish Times reported on Ward’s second conviction in March 1997

Mr Ward was told by the SFO and the Attorney General that his complaint was unfounded, with SFO Deputy Director John Knox writing: “It is neither for the Director nor his staff to condone or condemn the actions of journalists.”

A month later, in September 1995, Mr Ward was back in court facing further fraud charges which this time saw him jailed for a year.

“I maintain my innocence of all charges and will work hard to have these convictions overturned.”

Michael Ward, Tuesday 26 September 1995

However it emerged during his trial that the Mail on Sunday had secretly paid potential prosecution witnesses and even offered one a bonus if Mr Ward was found guilty.

Associated Newspapers Ltd’s official statement following their settlement with Mr Ward in May 2021
Associated Newspapers Ltd’s official statement following their settlement with Mr Ward in May 2021

City Editor Clive Wolman – now a distinguished barrister – gave evidence under oath that fellow reporter Lawrence Lever had removed a number of documents from Mr Ward’s home.

Some were returned after photocopying, he claimed, some were passed to the SFO – but many were destroyed.

Wolman also received documents taken from Mr Ward’s home by a decorator.

Said Michael: “The Mail on Sunday was allowed to do various things which no sane investigator would have allowed to have happened.

“I tried and tried to voice my concerns, but if you put yourself back into the realpolitik of that time, everyone had an ambiguous understanding of what the newspapers were allowed to do.

“There was a general sense that I should leave well alone, rather than start accusing the Mail on Sunday of shenanigans, because they were far more powerful and would wear me down.”

Mr Ward’s concerns went unheeded.

Jacqui Hames was a witness at the Leveson Inquiry in 2012.

Her evidence was a chilling echo of Mr Ward’s complaint to the Home Secretary 17 years earlier.

Hames wrote in her statement: “I believe that the real reason for the News of the World placing us under surveillance was that suspects in the Daniel Morgan murder inquiry were using their association with a powerful and well-resourced newspaper to try to intimidate us and so attempt to subvert the investigation.”

Jacqui Hames giving evidence at the Leveson Inquiry

Seven years later MET police officer Jacqui Hames and husband David Cook found themselves as the centre of a News of the World surveillance operation.

Cook – then a serving detective – was leading the investigation into the still unsolved axe murder of private investigator Daniel Morgan in 1987.

Entangled in the inquiry was the News of the World’s relationship with Daniel Morgan’s business partner John Rees, a key suspect.

Mr Ward added: “My own warning, years earlier, that a criminal inquiry was being railroaded by lies was completely ignored.”

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