EXPLAINED

Allegations of Mail on Sunday ‘criminality’ cast gloom over Paul Dacre’s Ofcom bid

  • EX-DAILY MAIL EDITOR being lined up by PM for plum chairman role
  • CULTURE SECRETARY Oliver Dowden has ultimate responsibility for making appointment
  • BYLINE INVESTIGATES has warned Dowden of hacking at Mail on Dacre’s watch
  • OUR LETTER is now joined by damning dossier from businessman smeared by MoS
  • DACRE’S BID for role as Ofcom chair has since hit the skids after interview fail

By Chris Allen and Graham Johnson


CONDEMNATORY CORRESPONDENCE IS PILING up on the desk of Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden detailing why ex-Mail editor Paul Dacre would be a disaster for a rumoured new job as Ofcom boss.

Dowden has ultimate responsibility for appointing a new chair of the TV regulator – and Dacre is reportedly being lined-up for the plum role by PM Boris Johnson.

Byline Investigates wrote to Dowden outlining allegations of phone hacking and illegal information gathering under Dacre’s editorship at the Mail.

Now a former businessman smeared by the Mail on Sunday (MoS) has added to the dossier of damning evidence against the Associated Newspapers (ANL) Editor-in-Chief.

The Rt Hon Oliver Dowden CBE MP
Member of Parliament for Hertsmere

Ofcom is responsible for overseeing standards in TV and radio, but also regulates phone networks, broadband and postal services.

A recruitment process to replace its interim chair Maggie Carver is now said to be in disarray after an interview panel rejected Dacre’s application.

“Paul Dacre is a liar and arch manipulator. He would be a terrible choice, one which the Government will come to regret.”

An excerpt from Michael Ward’s letter to Oliver Dowden on February 18th 2021

The Guardian newspaper reported in May that he didn’t fulfill certain criteria – and was therefore “not appointable.”

A government spokesperson later confirmed the process would start again from scratch – giving Dacre another shot at the jackpot.

The final decision, however, lies with Culture Secretary Dowden, who can choose to ignore the recommendations of the selection panel.

Thanks to Byline Investigates, he will have at his disposal a raft of additional information when he picks Carver’s successor.

Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre arrives at the Leveson Inquiry into press standards at the High Court in London.

In our letter, dated 11th February 2021, we detailed how our probe uncovered the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday’s use of private detectives linked to industrial scale data theft.

We also pointed to stories alleging phone hacking and “blagging” of medical records took place at Mail titles – an accusation which Dacre and Associated Newspapers deny.

A week after our letter landed on Dowden’s desk, it was joined by a dossier from former businessman Michael Ward.

Byline investigates has reported on Mr Ward’s allegations that the Mail on Sunday corrupted his trial for fraud in the 1990s to undermine his libel action against the paper.

Excerpt of Byline Investigates’ letter to Secretary of State Oliver Dowden.  Download the full letter here
Excerpt of Byline Investigates’ letter to Secretary of State Oliver Dowden.

Mr Ward had also warned ANL top brass – including Dacre – of “criminality” at its flagship title – allegations which they conveniently omitted in their evidence to the Leveson Inquiry.

Writing to Dowden on February 18th 2021, Mr Ward warned: “Paul Dacre is a liar and arch manipulator. He would be a terrible choice, one which the Government will come to regret.”

Michael Ward

He went on to accuse Dacre of being involved in a “conspiracy to cover up my complaints, and to avoid investigating my complaints, in order to avoid having to admit the serious criminality his journalists perpetrated against me.”

It seems Mr Ward’s file on alleged criminality at the MoS – including theft of documents from his home and secret payments made to witnesses in his fraud trial – struck a nerve at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport.

A member of Dowden’s ministerial support team wrote back to Mr Ward just seven days later, saying: “We appreciate and recognise your concern especially in light of the evidence you have provided in the form of supporting documents.”

However, the author refused to be drawn into speculation about potential candidates.

According to the Sunday Times, Dacre’s bid to take over from Maggie Carver hit the skids eight weeks later, in late April, after an interview at the Treasury building in Whitehall.

Dacre “was said to hold convictions incompatible with the role of an independent chairman,” the Sunday Times reported.

BBC Portland Place. By Herry Lawford (licensed under CC BY 2.0)
BBC Portland Place. By Herry Lawford (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Mr Ward commented: “The Ministry has clearly read my letter, and they would have had to deal with it as it contains some quite serious assertions.

“The worse thing for them would have been to say yes to Dacre, and then have a libel case running alongside his appointment, where I would have demonstrated how the man lied to Leveson.”

A libel action brought by Mr Ward against ANL was unexpectedly settled out of court by the MoS publisher in May.

Mr Ward said: “I do wonder whether my letter to Dowden had a bearing on the settlement. Was Dacre made aware of it, and did he tell ANL to bring my action to an end?

“It was settled for all the normal reasons – the probability was that I was going to win the libel suit because I was on the right ground.

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

“But was it given that extra bit of power and influence, because of my Dacre letter? It’s possible.”

Critics of Dacre’s shoe-in for the job say it is part of a right-wing plot to curb a perceived leftist bias at the BBC.

Said Mr Ward: “Why would the government even consider Dacre? Well – because he’s a bully, and because he is anti-BBC. He’s a destroyer, not a builder.

“The BBC is a national treasure, a major asset to the UK – and the Mail on Sunday really isn’t. It’s a destroyer and a fomentor of everything that’s wrong.

“Putting Dacre in as chair of Ofcom would be like putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop. He would destroy the BBC, emasculate it.”

A DCMS spokesperson said:

“This misleading article has deliberately misrepresented the department’s response to this letter. The competition to appoint a new chair of Ofcom and the decision to rerun it has been conducted in full accordance with the governance code for public appointments.” 

 As background:

·        Under the Code, Ministers should be provided with a choice of high quality candidates, drawn from a strong, diverse field. However this competition received only a single figure number of applicants. 

·        We have informed the Commissioner for Public Appointments of our decision to run a new campaign to recruit the permanent Chair of Ofcom and will be taking extra steps to ensure that the field of potential candidates is much broader.

·        The full context of the quoted section of the letter was as follows: “We appreciate and recognise your concern especially in light of the evidence you have provided in the form of supporting documents. However, the government will not be drawn into speculation about potential candidates.”

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