And so those labouring in the service of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre finally appeared before the Leveson Inquiry, and the main event today has been Mail On Sunday editor Peter Wright, who has occupied the editor’s chair for over thirteen years, dutifully asking “how high” whenever the Vagina Monologue orders him to jump. And he has not been at all convincing.
Particularly taxing for Wright was the number of instances his hacks had appeared in the records of Steve Whittamore – the MoS was fourth in the Motorman hit parade, with the Daily Mail taking the number one spot – and the instances of illegally garnered information finding their way into his paper. And his public interest defence of a story about Baron Mandelson of Indeterminate Guacamole was unconvincing.
Wright was not the only one from the Mail titles of less than total veracity: earlier, Daily Mail picture editor Paul Silva told the Inquiry that the paper received 400 photos of Pippa Middleton every day, but did not publish any “as there is no reason to photograph her when she is out and about doing her own thing”. So all the Mail Online photos from her trip to Madrid recently were some kind of aberration, then.
One piece had just the two photos, with five in another, and not even being in a rowing boat in the large lake at the Parque Del Retiro stopped the snappers. Mail Online may be under different management, but as Wright emphasised, it carries the newspapers’ content, and is effectively the online presence of Associated Newspapers. You can’t just claim a big boy did it and ran away.
It got worse when Wright was asked about payments for stories: he conceded that a figure of £50,000 was about right for the reward given to Melissa Jacobs for the taped “sting” on Lord Triesman, who was subsequently forced to resign from England’s 2018 World Cup bid team. This confirms the Mail titles’ ability to open their chequebooks wider than the competition.
But it was the relationship with Whittamore – to which the questioning returned after lunch – that caused Wright the most discomfort, and was the most revealing. The MoS had routinely used Whittamore’s services for around a year following his arrest in that Sunday morning raid on Orchard Grove in New Milton, and continued to use him on occasion for another year after he was charged.
Given the scale of the haul that the Information Commissioner’s staff extracted from the Whittamore house, it should have been obvious to all who used his services that they could be incriminated in any subsequent action. So one might have expected the papers so involved to desist there and then. That the MoS did not tells much about how the imperative to get stories trumps legal niceties.
Paul Dacre appears at the Inquiry on February 6. It will be unmissable stuff.