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Sunday 5 March 2017

Mail Editor In The Mire

[Update at end of post]

After Byline Media revealed that the trade in mainly illegally gathered information via private investigator Steve Whittamore - even after he got busted by the Information Commissioner in 2003 - had gone on well after the Commissioner’s raid, the one newspaper group that spent almost as much with Whittamore after he was busted than before, the Mail titles, kept schtum, offering no comment.
Why the f*** should I care what Byline f***ing Media says, c***?!? Er, with the greatest of respect, Mr Jay

There was good reason for the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre and his colleagues at the time - which included the current Sun editor Tony Gallagher - to keep quiet and hope it would all blow over, and this has been brought into sharp focus by a follow up Byline article. This reveals Steve Whittamore himself as a source for the Byline investigation - the man who knows where all those bodies are buried.

As the sub-heading on the Byline piece tells, “The private investigator hired by the Daily Mail AFTER he was convicted of obtaining unlawful data is convinced reporters and editors ‘knew' his methods were illegal”. So what was Whittamore up to?

Many of Whittamore's taskings … involved illegal blagging of phone networks … he sold ex-directory landline numbers and ‘mobile phone conversions’ - finding out who a mobile phone is registered to, and where the person lives - so that Daily Mail reporters can doorstep them … [he] unlawfully supplied lists of ‘Friends and Family’ phone numbers to Daily Mail reporters, so that the paper could snoop on relatives and neighbours”.

This does not mean the Mail titles had to be involved in phone hacking: the Friends and Family lists, for instance, may simply have been used by reporters to pump those relatives and neighbours for information. That was not just being done by the Mail: as Zelo Street told a while ago, the Sunday Telegraph illegally obtained similar data for weapons expert David Kelly’s landline in the wake of his sudden death.

Whittamore’s response to the idea the Mail titles didn’t know what they were commissioning is direct: “To suggest that any editor worth their salt did not know of methods used on their behalf, in my opinion, is simply is not credible”, adding “Following a visit from the ICO in 2003, to many of my press contacts, I became a pariah … The Daily Mail, however, continued to request my services for some considerable time after”.

How did the Mail plead at the time? “The Daily Mail’s top lawyer Liz Hartley told the Leveson Inquiry that her company's reporters had no idea that Whittamore was using blagging … She tried to argue that they didn’t think he was using deception because the word ‘blag’ did not appear ‘much’ in the ICO’s summary of Whittamore’s records”. Perhaps the Mail titles were cool with just a soup├žon of illegality, then?
Tony Gallagher - he was involved too

Unfortunately for that excuse, “Whittamore has told Byline Investigations that almost all of his phone inquiries required blagging, and Byline reporters have seen documentary evidence to back this up”. How illegal? “‘Blagging,' or obtaining information by deception, is a criminal offence under Section 55 of the Data Protection Act”. And hello Mail titles: “Anyone commissioning the data-mining, who knew or ought to have known how it was obtained, is also liable for the same offence” [my emphasis].

Paul Dacre was questioned about Whittamore during his testimony before the Leveson Inquiry, and “claimed he could not ‘recall’ many of the details about his paper’s use of Whittamore … He forgot despite the Mail having access to all of its records and knowing he was going be questioned on the matter”. But we are also told that “a senior Associated News  journalist was interviewed under caution by the police in January 2004 over the police investigation into Whittamore and his blagging network”.

And Paul Dacre somehow didn’t know. It’s most unusual for the cat to have got the Vagina Monologue’s tongue. But he was able to deflect from the illegal nature of Whittamore’s information gathering by claiming “We established that often Mr Whittamore supplied information that wasn't necessarily asked for”.

Sadly that was not the investigator’s recollection: “Whittamore confirmed that the vast majority of his jobs came from direct instructions from Daily Mail journalists, and that his bills were rarely quibbled, which would have been the case if he was offering for sale extra data that wasn’t requested”. And there is a sting in the tail for the Mail excuse merchants.

Steve Whittamore’s business email address was blag2049@hotmail.com. Just to remind all those hacks commissioning information gathering exercises from him what was involved most of the time. Blagging.

That is why the Mail titles are thus far keeping schtum, making sure their heads are below the parapet, and not responding - even though Byline Media have given notice of publication and asked for comment.

And there will be more next week.

I said Paul Dacre should have retired when he reached the age of 65. Now you can see another reason why that would have been a good thing for him - and his reputation.

[UPDATE 12 March 1730 hours: the Mail's publishers have made a legal complaint to Byline Media over the article referenced from this post. Byline's response is detailed below.

'Paul Dacre, the Editor of the Daily Mail and Editor-in-Chief of Associated Newspapers Limited (“ANL”), Peter Wright, Editor Emeritus of ANL and Liz Hartley, Head of Editorial Legal Services at ANL and ANL have written to us saying that they take issue with Byline articles (Parts 1-3 including: "Part 1: Daily Mail Faces Fresh Blagging Scandal" dated 3 March 2017, "Part 2: Daily Mail 'must have known' says Blagging Scandal Private Detective" dated 4 March 2017 and "Part 3: Mail Blags Byline Over Illegal Spying" dated 7 March 2017). They have told us that the articles contain a number of allegations that are defamatory and untrue. They have not said what it is they say is false and we have responded to their lawyers’ letter urging them to do so as a matter of urgency so that we can take any appropriate corrective action if required. But in the meantime we want our readers to be aware that the claims in these articles are disputed by Messrs Dacre and Wright, and Ms Hartley. We will update this notice once we receive their response and have considered what they say'.

Any updates on this complaint will be posted as and when they become available]

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