After Byline Media published a series of articles - all of which had been independently legalled - detailing the use by the Mail titles (at the time not just the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, but also the Evening Standard) of information, most of it illegally obtained, from private investigator Steve Whittamore for years after he was busted by the Information Commissioner, the legal threats and associated demands started.
What's my f***ing photo doing here AGAIN, c***?!?
That the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, this year celebrating a quarter of a century in the editor’s chair, is party to a clear attempt to suppress freedom of speech and the release of information which is asserted to be in the public interest is a most interesting change of heart for one who claims to support such concepts. What is yet more jaw-dropping are the targets of the legal action and the demands being made.
We know what these are, as Byline have published the Letter Before Action from lawyers acting on behalf of Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL).
The Mail titles want to identify the author(s) of the articles, and to this end the lawyers’ letter states: “we assume from the references on Byline.com to ‘accountable’ journalism that the authors of the articles and any other journalists or researchers who were involved in the preparation or writing of the articles are prepared to be identified. Please therefore confirm by return who they are”.
I am sure this is a purely altruistic measure and nothing to do with the Mail titles later running their version of a punishment beating, or otherwise ostracising those concerned.
They want it to be known that this is just “old news”: “All three articles rehearse old allegations concerning ANL's newspapers and Operation Motorman, which relate to events from over a decade ago and were investigated at length by the Leveson Inquiry”.
Nothing to see here, non story, as you were, look over there.
They claim Byline’s articles meant “that each of our clients deliberately buried or suppressed relevant information from ANL's evidence to the Leveson Inquiry to avoid the true extent of ANL's use of Steve Whittamore from being exposed” and “that this was a contempt of the Leveson Inquiry”.
This assertion is refuted categorically. But it is a most interesting revelation of the kinds of subjects on which the Mail’s management are highly sensitive.
Nothing to do with him, right?
The proverbial kitchen sink is thrown at Byline: not only are a variety of claims made suggesting that parts of the articles are defamatory - which is emphatically refuted - but there are complaints of misrepresentation. Yes, the Mail’s lawyers are claiming that the Mail is a victim of misrepresentation, rather than dishing it out to others.
The Mail and its lawyers appear to believe it’s all about Hacked Off. You think I jest? The only three names cited in claims of the extent to which the articles were republished on social media were these three:
“John Cleese tweeted the First Article on 3 March 2017 to his 5.51 million followers”,
“The Guardian journalist, Nick Davies, who was one of the journalists most prominently involved in the phone hacking investigations, tweeted on 3 March 2017”, and
“Hugh Grant tweeted to his 249,000 followers on 6 March 2017”.
Cleese and Grant are well known as people who have spoken up for victims of press intrusion via campaigning group Hacked Off. Nick Davies (note to Mail lawyers - he’s retired from the Guardian, do try and get the details right when you’re calling others for not doing so) has been on the discussion panel at Hacked Off events. This appears to speak to an intensely paranoid mindset - Hacked Off are coming to get them (allegedly).
Byline obligingly reveals its source
The brass neck of the Mail’s lawyers is yet more jaw-dropping. These demands include “in line with your general obligations to preserve evidence, please ensure that you retain any Twitter analytics before removing any relevant Tweets – in this respect we refer you to the recent decision in Monroe v Hopkins  EWHC 433 (QB));”
Quoting a case in which a Mail Online pundit just lost. Stay classy.
The Mail’s lawyers demand the kinds of apologies that those defamed by the Mail can only dream of: they want Byline to “publish a full retraction of the allegations complained of and an apology to each of our clients in words to be agreed with us in advance, to be published prominently on the top of the homepage of Byline’s website, Facebook page and twitter feed for at least seven days (and thereafter retained on Byline’s website, Facebook page and twitter feed) and sent to all recipients of the articles who subscribe to Byline's articles by email”.
And not buried in the small print on the left-hand side of a left-hand page somewhere inside the newspaper, oh no. That would never do.
The Mail and its lawyers also do the brass neck on press freedom: “our clients are passionately committed to press freedom and the principles underpinning the importance of preserving an unfettered and independent news media and we emphasise again that they fully respect your right to write about these matters”.
Of course they are. That’s why they have issued the legal threats and followed that assertion with “Our clients’ approach to damages and costs - to which they would each be entitled - will be influenced by your response to this letter”.
And on that note, I cannot help but notice the similarity between that sign-off and the letter which, in 1971, provoked a response of such brevity from Private Eye magazine.
But that is for another time.