Four current national newspaper editors – including the editor of the Times – named in unlawful news gathering claims

New legal documents in Prince Harry’s case against the Daily Mail reveal the names of 70 top journalists – but Mail deny wrongdoing

Prince Harry arrives at High Court, Rolls Building. (Photo by Vuk Valcic / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)

By Brian Cathcart

FOUR CURRENT editors of UK national newspapers, including the editor of the London Times, are among dozens of current and former journalists from the Mail newspapers alleged to have employed private investigators to gather information by unlawful means, new court papers reveal.

Tony Gallagher, Victoria Newton, Ben Taylor and David Dillon, the editors of the Times, the Sun, the Sunday Times and the Mail on Sunday, are named in damages claims brought against the owners of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday by Prince Harry, Baroness Doreen Lawrence, Elton John and others.

Though the claims were first brought in 2022, the names have only been made public now after the failure of sustained efforts by the Mail papers to prevent their disclosure. Some 70 individuals are identified.

Baroness Doreen Lawrence leaves the Royal Courts Of Justice, central London, following a hearing claim over allegations of unlawful information gathering brought against Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) by seven people – the Duke of Sussex, Baroness Doreen Lawrence, Sir Elton John, David Furnish, Liz Hurley, Sadie Frost and Sir Simon Hughes. Picture date: Monday March 27, 2023.

For Times editor Gallagher, who spent most of his career working at the Mail, it is the first time he has been identified in 17 years of litigation related to phone hacking and unlawful news gathering. Ben Taylor – who spent 22 years working for the Daily Mail before taking over the Sunday Times – has also never featured in any of hundreds of previous High Court cases – while Newton has figured in phone hacking claims against the Sun.

As for Mail on Sunday editor Dillon, the documents state among other things that he was interviewed under caution in 2004 in connection with the use of a third party to access confidential information from the Police National Computer. He was not charged.

The Mail papers, like the Sun, deny most of the allegations, and while the Sun routinely avoids trials by settling cases out of court, the Mail group, known as Associated Newspapers, has said it will fight these claims all the way. Associated Newspapers has admitted to some use of some private investigators before 2007, when editor-in-chief Paul Dacre says he banned the practice.

Hacking, blagging, burglary

The claims rest primarily on the alleged use of professional third parties by Mail and Mail on Sunday reporters to acquire private information using the hacking or tapping of phones, forms of unlawful deception known as ‘blagging’, and burglary or breaking and entering. Some direct involvement of journalists in these activities is also alleged, while some named executives are said in the claims to have known about and authorised the commissioning without having been directly involved. 

Phone hacking, listening to voicemails, burglary and landline tapping are all denied by Associated.

Details are given in the claims of 10 specialist individuals or firms said to have been commissioned and paid for such work by the Mail and Mail on Sunday between 1993 and 2018, and with these are substantial lists of journalists alleged to have played some role in the transactions.

Besides Gallagher, Newton, Taylor and Dillon, those named include Jon Wellington, former managing editor of the Mail on Sunday; Stephen Wright, an award-winning crime reporter who is now associate editor of the Daily Mail; Paul Henderson, former investigations editor of the Daily Mail who went on to be editor of the Sunday Mirror and the People; and Rebecca English, longtime royal correspondent of the Daily Mail.

Others named are Gordon Rayner, Sharon Churcher, Nicole Lampert, Alison Boshoff and Richard Simpson.

The claim documents also charge Associated Newspapers with breaching claimants’ rights by deliberately concealing and denying the use of unlawful methods, and in this context they name in particular Paul Dacre, longtime editor of the Daily Mail, Peter Wright, former editor of the Mail on Sunday, and Liz Hartley, longtime legal director at Associated. All three denied under oath to the Leveson Inquiry that Mail papers had knowingly engaged in or commissioned unlawful activities.

Former rivate investigator Glenn Mulcaire (Alamy / PA)

The claimants allege that Glenn Mulcaire, working with a journalist, Greg Miskiw, supplied hacked material to the Mail on Sunday. Both Mulcaire and Miskiw were later jailed for hacking – unlawfully intercepting mobile voicemail messages – at Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World.

Associated tried to prevent the journalists’ names being made public. Some were listed in ledgers supplied by Associated to the Leveson Inquiry of 2011-12 under conditions of confidentiality. The ledgers were subsequently acquired (legally) and partially published by an online publisher, but Associated’s lawyers argued that it would be a breach of the inquiry’s confidentiality restrictions if Prince Harry and the other claimants were allowed to use the information from the ledgers in support of their legal actions.

Last December the judge hearing the claims, Mr Justice Nicklin, ruled in favour of the company on the point of confidentiality, but pointed out that the claimants could ask the government to waive the restrictions. Earlier this year, to the surprise of many, Rishi Sunak’s government agreed to do so, meaning that the documents in full could be seen by the public for the first time.

Lord Rothermere

Lord Rothermere, Billionaire owner of the Mail titles. (Iain Crockart/DMGT/PA Archive/PA Images)

These are the first civil cases alleging breach of privacy and the use of unlawful techniques to have been brought against the Mail and the Mail on Sunday and the newspaper group, owned by Lord Rothermere, has sworn to fight it all the way.

The seven claimants are: Prince Harry, Baroness Lawrence, Elton John, David Furnish, Elizabeth Hurley, Sir Simon Hughes and Sadie Frost.

Litigation in the civil courts relating to phone hacking and other unlawful news gathering techniques has been going on since around 2007, involving first the News of the World and subsequently the Sun, the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Mirror and the People. All of those but the Sun have admitted unlawful activity and all including the Sun have all paid very substantial sums in settlements. Total payouts and legal costs for newspaper companies to date are not in the public domain, but are believed to amount to between £1 and £2 billion.

The claims against the Mail papers note that of the 10 private investigators named, most have already been found by judges to have engaged in unlawful information gathering for other newspapers. In most cases this meant blagging, which usually involves tricking organisations into revealing confidential information such as medical or financial records. In some cases the deception was carried out by trained actors.

The editor of the Times

The editor of The Daily Telegraph Tony Gallagher arrives in Downing Street in London, December 4, 2012. British Prime Minister David Cameron told a meeting of newspaper editors on Tuesday they needed to set up an independent press regulator urgently. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Though Tony Gallagher has little public profile, he must rank as one of the UK’s leading journalists. Before taking the editor’s chair at Rupert Murdoch’s Times in 2020 he was editor of the Sun and before that of the Daily Telegraph.

According to the court documents, when working as news editor of the Daily Mail he commissioned and approved payments to two private investigation companies known to have acted unlawfully, notably by blagging. 

He is named first in a passage describing the activities of private investigator Steve Whittamore and his company JJ Services. Whittamore’s specialities included acquiring unlisted phone numbers and bills, accessing criminal records and identifying the owners of vehicles on the basis of registration numbers – none of which can be done lawfully. ‘He carried out such acts for Associated from 1998 to 2007,’ the claims say. Gallagher is identified among several Mail and Mail on Sunday journalists who commissioned him.

Elsewhere Gallagher is said to have commissioned work from and approved payments to TDI/ELI, or Trace Direct International/Express Locate International. This company was known for blagging financial and medical information and utility records, as well as for carrying out mobile phone hacking and for acquiring unlisted numbers and PINs – essential precursors to unlawful mobile phone hacking.

Ben Taylor, who as editor of the Sunday Times is, like Gallagher, a very senior executive in the Murdoch organisation, is also said to have commissioned work from TDI/ELI.

As for Victoria Newton, she was showbiz editor of the Daily Mail in the early 2000s and the claim documents allege that she ‘regularly commissioned TDI/ELI, for example in relation to targets such as Elizabeth Hurley’.

Piers Morgan

Piers Morgan (PA)

Being named in the ‘particulars of claim’ does not make the listed journalists parties to the cases, which are exclusively between the claimants and Associated Newspapers. Evidence relating to particular journalists will be assessed by the judge in the context of the possible responsibility of the newspaper group as a whole.

While it may be embarrassing to the editors of national newspapers to have their names associated with unlawful activities in this way, as the case of former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan shows, even when a judge states in a formal judgment that named journalists have knowingly commissioned unlawful acts it does not mean that criminal prosecutions follow.

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