Posts Tagged ‘BBC’

CITIZEN SMITH

September 7, 2016

 

Owen_Smith_head_citizen

ONE OF the most common criticisms of Jeremy Corbyn is that he’s unelectable.

Critics point to the poll ratings, with Labour currently trailing the Tories.

But little attention has been paid to challenger Owen Smith’s electoral record.

In the past decade he and his wife have stood in four elections — all in traditional Labour strongholds.

They’ve lost two of them.

Even when Owen Smith wins, he does so with a reduced majority.

Some voters are not impressed with his style: he was nicknamed “Oily” in one election and arrogant in another.

Is there something toxic about “brand Smith”?

♦♦♦

THREE YEARS ago Owen Smith was the driving force behind a political manifesto.

He co-edited a series of essays called One Nation: power, hope, community.

The Guardian said:

” … a group of the party’s rising stars call for it to end the lockout of local communities from power and to bury top-down statist solutions that have failed in the past.”

It was a time when Labour was searching for a way to appeal to the middle ground of British politics.

Labour Leader Ed Miliband summed it up in the preface:

“… a One Nation Labour Party is a party of the national interest, not one part of the country or any sectional interest.”

In the opening chapter Owen Smith was candid about the problems he faced in his own constituency, Pontypridd in south Wales.

“Membership and majorities are counted carefully now, when once they were weighed. Belief in our mission is dwindling.”

He was also clear about the solution:

“I believe the answer comes in two parts: we need both bottom-up participation and leadership from the top; to simultaneously cultivate our roots and command the heights.”

But he admits his attempt to regenerate Labour grass-roots in Pontypridd isn’t working:

“ … in the three years since I was elected the means to galvanise that engagement has proved elusive and frustrating.”

“This is undoubtedly partly a result of the many previous false dawns that have promised progress but failed to deliver: it’s hard to feel progressive when there seems so little sign of progress for you and yours.”

But he was still confident things could be turned around.

“Slowly but surely, Labour is re-engaging with dialogue in our communities, and developing new common objectives and solutions that will prove the real foundations for our rebuilding.”

Part of the strategy was a move to bring greater democracy to the party:

“Iain McNicol [Labour’s General Secretary] has been leading reforms in the party aimed at building a more open and inclusive movement.”

Labour leadership challenge
BACK TO THE FUTURE?  
THREE YEARS ago Owen Smith was praising Labour for “… leading reforms in the party aimed at building a more open and inclusive movement.” But it was not until Jeremy Corbyn stood for leader that membership began to rocket — from under 300,000 to more than 500,000. Ironically, the party’s National Executive Committee have now barred some 130,000 recently joined members — most of them believed to be Corbyn supporters — from voting in the leadership election.
Photo: Ben Birchall / PA

In Pontypridd Smith thought he’d found a way to galvanise the community:

“Pontypridd Citizens, which will bring together churches and parties, unions and residents, in order to determine local needs and empower local leaders, is launching this year, taking its cue and its form from similar schemes that are energising communities across Britain.”

“It will mark a new beginning in the politics of Pontypridd, and Labour will be at its heart.”

The organisation should be three years old by now.

But Press Gang could find no evidence of Pontypridd Citizens — and when we asked people in the constituency, no-one had never heard of it.

We asked Owen Smith for an explanation.

He didn’t reply.

♦♦♦

WHEN OWEN SMITH was chosen to be the Labour candidate for the 2006 Blaenau Gwent election, he had no experience of grass-roots politics. 

The seat had a troubled past but the party was expecting it to revert to being a Labour stronghold.

Owen Smith probably thought he had a safe seat for the rest of his political career.

In 2005 popular local politician Peter Law stood as an independent.

A former Labour member of the Welsh Assembly, he’d been barred from standing as a candidate for the general election because the party had imposed an all-woman short-list.

Labour nominated trade union leader Maggie Jones.

Many Labour voters deserted the official candidate and chose the independent.

But Law — already diagnosed with brain cancer — died the following year.

His agent, Dai Davies, decided to stand in the by-election that followed.

Labour strategists felt Law’s death had taken the sting out of the rebellion — and that the faithful would return to the fold.

In the early days of the campaign a poll gave Owen a massive 12 per cent lead.

Labour mounted a huge campaign to retake the seat — spending £56,000 to Davies’ £7,000.

But Smith’s organisation was cack-handed.

Telephone canvassers angered voters when they began calling within days of Law’s death.

Activists were bussed in from all over Britain but they knew nothing about Blaenau Gwent.

Smith himself acquired the nickname “Oily”.

Dai Davies was a well-known political figure who outgunned Smith on many fronts.

One of them was Nye Bevan, the political midwife of the NHS, whose old Tredegar constituency was now part of Blaenau Gwent

Smith claimed Nye Bevan as his hero.

But Dai Davies could trump that.

He was a trustee of the Bevan Foundation, a left-wing think tank formed in his memory.

Smith did not become a trustee of the Foundation until after the by-election.

The result was Dai Davies won a narrow victory — by just 2,488 just votes.

It was a bruising experience for Smith and he decided not to seek the nomination again.

Labour regained the seat in 2010.

♦♦♦

THE LIKELIHOOD is that plans were already afoot to shoehorn Owen Smith into the Pontypridd constituency.

Just before Christmas 2009 the sitting MP, Kim Howells, announced he was standing down as the MP.

Soon after, there were press reports that Owen Smith was ringing members of the constituency Labour Party to make his pitch to replace Howells.

Howells is, of course, an old friend of Owen Smith’s father, Dai Smith but Owen Smith denies that the Howells played any part in his selection.

Smith gained the nomination.

IMG_1090
NEPOTISM HOUSE?
OWEN SMITH’S home in his Pontypridd constituency has an intriguing past. Shortly after he was elected in 2010, the MP paid £285,000 for the north wing of the listed building in Llantrisant. It was previously owned by the sister of former BBC boss Menna Richards who bought the property shortly after she formed an independent production company. She won millions of pounds worth of contracts from the Corporation. It was under Menna Richards that Owen Smith made his breakthrough into television — as producer of the politics series Dragon’s Eye in 2000.
Photo: Press Gang

In Pontypridd Labour was united — but there were other problems.

The Lib Dems, led by Nick Clegg, were riding high in the polls — and they had a well-known local candidate in Mike Powell.

When Labour councillor Glynne Holmes had his picture taken with Powell as part of a campaign to save the Post Office in Llantrisant, he found himself the subject of a disciplinary hearing.

He was cleared but it was a sign of how anxious Labour officials were.

In the end, Smith won by just 2,791 votes.

The Western Mail noted:

“There were relieved faces as Labour held on to the Pontypridd seat.”

Smith polled 14,200 votes — a drop of more than 6,000 on Howells’ figure in 2005.

In the 2015 election, when Lib Dem support collapsed, Smith was able to clawback less than 1,400 of the lost votes.

In the ten years from 2005 to 2015, Labour has lost a quarter of its support in Pontypridd.

♦♦♦

EARLY THIS year Owen Smith’s wife, primary school teacher Liz, decided to stand for election to the Llantrisant town council.

There was a vacancy in the Llantrisant ward where she and Owen Smith had lived for five years.

The Labour Party ticket plus the fact that her husband was the MP were expected to secure her election.

But there was another candidate who was far more active in the town.

Louisa Mills, an independent, had started a local charity and was campaigning for a community garden.

She beat Liz Smith by 320 votes to 273.

Owen Smith may not have been as asset in the poll.

Some residents find him arrogant.

One said:

“He’s risen quickly … due to his PR skills and actually believes his own hype.”

“In my view he cares more about power than he does about using that power to help people.

All of this means Owen Smith and his wife have now contested four elections between them.

They’ve lost two.

In the two elections Owen Smith has won, he has presided over a decline in the Labour vote.

What will happen when the right-wing press goes to work on him?

♦♦♦
Published: 7 September 2016
© Press Gang
♦♦♦

Notes
1
The statistics for Owen Smith’s Pontypridd constituency make disturbing reading for Labour. These are are the number of votes cast for Owen Smith’s predecessor Kim Howells and the share of the poll:
1989   20,500   53%
1992   29,700   61%
1997   29,290   64%
2001   23,000   60%
2005   20,900   53%
From a peak of 64% of the vote in 1997 — the landslide year when Tony Blair became Prime Minister — it was down to 53% by 2005.
Owen Smith hasn’t arrested the decline. The result for the two elections he’s fought are:
2010   14,200   39%
2015   15,600   41%
In the face of a Lib Dem resurgence in 2010 he was lucky to hold on to the seat. And even with the collapse of the Lib Dems in 2015 he was able to retrieve only a small proportion of the Labour vote he’d lost in 2010.
2
This the fourth instalment of this investigation. The other articles are:
Owen Smith: Forged By Patronage and Nepotism?
Owen Smith: A Man For All Seasons
BBC Forced To Correct Owen Smith Profile.
Click on a title to read it.
3
Press Gang editor Paddy French declares personal interests in this story:
— in the 1980s he was the editor of Rebecca magazine which was in competition for a substantial Welsh Arts Council grant. One of the competitors was Arcade magazine and Dai Smith, Owen Smith’s father, was one of its supporters. The council’s literature committee chose Rebecca but the full council overturned the decision — and gave the grant to Arcade
— French is one of the thousands of traditional Labour voters who have joined the party following Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Leader. He will be voting for Corbyn in the Leadership election.
4
The Rebecca investigation into nepotism and patronage at BBC Wales is explored in the articles:
The Son Of The Man From Uncle
In The Name Of The Father?
5
The cover block pic is by Gareth Fuller / PA.

♦♦♦

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EXCLUSIVE — OWEN SMITH: A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS

August 8, 2016

 Owen_Smith_head_seasons

THE BATTLE for the Labour leadership is in full swing.

But so far the personal integrity of Owen Smith has not been an issue in the campaign.

The mainstream media have accepted his own sanitized version of his career.

The result is that it has largely been left to Press Gang to ask the searching questions about Owen Smith.

He still declines to provide the detailed CV we’ve asked for.

But, after some delay, he’s finally started to answer some of our questions.

He denies that nepotism and patronage in South Wales played any part in his rise to become a possible future Prime Minister.

But some of his answers are unconvincing.

And more questions are emerging …

♦♦♦

SEVEN HOURS after Press Gang published the article “Owen Smith: Forged by Patronage and Nepotism?” the Labour leadership candidate finally answered some of our questions.

His press team told us on Wednesday:

“The suggestion that Owen received any of his roles through patronage are (sic) completely false.”

A spokesperson said Owen Smith had forwarded our questions to Nick Evans, the senior BBC Wales radio producer who first hired him.

Nick Evans then sent us two emails.

Labour leadership challenge
LEFT — AND LEFT AGAIN?
JEREMY CORBYN and Owen Smith at the first public hustings of the leadership campaign in Cardiff on Thursday night. The British media have concentrated most of its forensic firepower on Jeremy Corbyn and have largely taken the challenger at face value. Press Gang is one of the few investigative outlets examining Owen Smith’s career in detail.
Photo: PA

In the first, Evans said it was Owen Smith who first approached him for work.

In his second, he gave a different version: Owen Smith had come into BBC Wales with his father and it was Evans who offered him work.

We asked Owen Smith about this contradiction.

His press team replied:

“Owen’s appointment followed casual work he had gained at BBC Wales, after contacting Nick directly, … without any input from his father.”

The press team also forwarded our questions to the man who was BBC Wales’ head of human relations at the time, Keith Rawlings, adding:

” … he would be able to confirm all of your allegations are completely false.”

“Keith sat on the interview panel alongside Nick [Evans] when Owen was originally interviewed.”

Press Gang rang Keith Rawlings.

He told us he wasn’t on the interview panel when Owen Smith was originally appointed.

He said the first he knew of Owen Smith was much later, after Dai Smith had been appointed Editor, Radio Wales.

In other words, Rawlings knew nothing about how Owen Smith was first introduced to Radio Wales …

♦♦♦

HAVE THE BBC been complicit in Owen Smith’s attempts to avoid questions about nepotism and patronage?

Two days after Owen Smith became the sole challenger to Jeremy Corbyn, the BBC political reporter Brian Wheeler posted a profile of the candidate headed “The Owen Smith story”.

This article set the tone for much of the general media treatment of Owen Smith’s early BBC career.

It contained this paragraph:

“After studying history and French at the University of Sussex, he joined BBC Wales as a radio producer. His father, Dai, was appointed editor of BBC Wales and head of programmes in the same year.”

By focusing on the actual appointments of Owen Smith to a post on Radio Wales and Dai Smith as Editor of Radio Wales, it gave the impression that Owen was already at the BBC when his father was picked to be the next Editor of Radio Wales.

It failed to say that Dai Smith had already introduced Owen before either appointment took place.

DaiSmith_35
DAI SMITH
OWEN SMITH’S father has been an important figure in Welsh public life for decades. He was the second most powerful man at BBC in the late 1990s and close to the clique that controlled broadcasting at that time. As one of the main historians of the south Wales miners, he’s also close to some of the key political figures in Welsh Labour. Owen Smith insists his father played no part in his career …
Photo: Parthian Books 

Given that the information in this article could only have come from one of two places — the BBC itself or Owen Smith — it raises the question of bias.

On Thursday Press Gang editor Paddy French wrote to BBC Director General Lord (Tony) Hall.

The email said there were several errors in the paragraph’s second sentence:

“His father, Dai, was appointed editor of BBC Wales and head of programmes in the same year.”

French noted:

” — there has never been an Editor of BBC Wales. The post being referred to here is Editor, Radio Wales.”

” — there is an issue about the date of [Dai’s] appointment: former BBC Wales contacts tell me this was actually 1993, not 1992.”

” — Dai Smith was not appointed head of programmes in the same year: that actually happened, as I understand it, in 1994.”

The Press Gang editor added:

“I am also concerned at the possibility that this paragraph was a deliberate red herring, designed to deflect attention away from the question about how Owen Smith was introduced to BBC Wales in the first place.”

“Given the sensitivity that surrounds the Corbyn-Smith contest for the Labour leadership, this article also raises questions about BBC impartiality.”

A spokeswoman for Tony Hall acknowledged receipt of the email but, at the time this article went to press, there was no reply.

♦♦♦

OTHER SERIOUS challenges to Owen Smith’s reputation for honesty are beginning to emerge.

In 2002 he left BBC Wales and took a post as special adviser to Labour Cabinet Minister Paul Murphy, the MP for the Welsh constituency of Torfaen.

Owen Smith insists his family connections played no part in this appointment.

His press team told us:

“With regards to Owen’s appointment with Paul Murphy — again Dai [Smith] had absolutely no involvement.”

“Dai did not even know Paul Murphy at all, until after Owen began working for him.”

Paul Murphy also denied that Dai was involved in the appointment but wouldn’t explain how Owen Smith came to be selected.

Murphy told us:

“He came from BBC Wales, although I knew his father through Welsh Labour history circles.”

In 2005 Owen Smith joined the controversial US pharmaceutical company Pfizer.

His exact role is not clear — one press report said he was Head of Policy and Government Relations.

We asked Pfizer for more information.

The company told us:

“We are unable to discuss the details of individuals’ roles; however, we can confirm that Owen Smith was employed by Pfizer UK in our Corporate Affairs Department between January 2005 and September 2008.”

The job involved a substantial increase in salary.

Owen Smith moved his family from London down to a £489,000 house in the Surrey village of Westcott near Dorking.

In 2006 Pfizer allowed him time off work to contest the Blaenau Gwent by-election.

Owen Smith said the company had been “extremely supportive” of his aspirations to public office.

But the fact that Labour had selected a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical giant was not popular in a seat which included Nye Bevan’s old powerbase.

Labour party annual conference 2015
“DRUG PUSHER”
WHEN OWEN SMITH was selected as the candidate for the by-election in Blaenau Gwent in 2006, there was concern that he was a lobbyist for a pharmaceutical company — Labour MP Paul Flynn called him a “drug pusher”.  In the general election of 2005 local politician Peter Law had left the party in protest at the imposition of an all-woman shortlist and captured the seat as an independent. He died of a brain tumour a year later and Labour, dropping its all-woman shortlist, selected Owen Smith. The party confidently expected to regain the seat and spent more than £56,000 on the campaign, including holiday accommodation outside the constituency for party activists drawn in from all over Britain. Dai Davies, Law’s agent, spent less than £7,000 on his campaign but still managed to beat Smith with a majority of 2,484 votes.
Photo: PA 

Newport Labour MP Paul Flynn said:

“I wasn’t too pleased that we had a drug pusher as a candidate.

He added:

“The lobbyists are a curse, a cancer in the system. It’s insidious. One of my main interests in politics is areas in which lobbyists used their wicked wiles to get access to government. One example is the pharmaceutical industry, who are the most greedy and deceitful organisations we have to deal with.”

♦♦♦ 

OWEN SMITH’S time as a lobbyist with Pfizer haunts his political career.

In June 2014, when Owen Smith was shadow Welsh Secretary, there was a major controversy involving Pfizer.

The American company made a £69 billion bid for AstraZeneca, the Anglo-Swedish company, which would have made Pfizer the world’s largest drug business.

It was opposed by then Labour Leader Ed Miliband who didn’t want a flagship UK company falling into US hands.

The fact that Labour were attacking a company when one of its own shadow Cabinet members had worked for the company as a lobbyist attracted media attention.

Owen Smith told the Sunday Telegraph:

“… obviously having worked there I’m probably a little more understanding than some of those other members …”

The paper added:

“Mr Smith said he was paid £80,000 a year to lobby for Pfizer.”

Pfizer eventually dropped the bid.

There have been suspicions that Owen Smith was paid far more than £80,000, so Press Gang did some digging.

Back in 2006, when he was working for Pfizer and contesting the 2006 Blaenau Gwent by-election, The Times sent two reporters to the constituency.

Their report contained the following statement:

“The Labour Party’s candidate for Westminster, Owen Smith, a … £200,000-a-year lobbyist for Pfizer ….””

We asked Owen Smith which was true: the £80,000 a year he told the Sunday Telegraph or The Times which said it was £200,000?

At the time we went to press, he had not replied.

♦♦♦

OWEN SMITH left Pfizer in 2008 and went to work in a similar role for the pharmaceutical company Amgen.

In 2010 he was selected as the Labour candidate for the safe Pontypridd constituency.

Again, he insists that his family and friends played no part in his selection.

One of these friends is Kim Howells, the MP who held the seat for Labour and had decided to step down at the 2010 election.

Howells is an old friend of Dai Smith and knows his son well.

Kim Howells MP
KIM HOWELLS
THE LABOUR politician held the safe Labour seat of Pontypridd for 21 years. Although he’s a friend of Dai Smith, and knows his son well, Owen Smith insists Howells played no part in his selection for one of the safest Labour seats in the UK.
Photo: PA

Owen Smith’s press team told us:

“The suggestion Kim helped Owen in his selection as the candidate for Pontypridd is also entirely false.”

“Whilst it is correct that Kim knew Dai, at no stage did Kim support or endorse Owen’s candidature.”

Once again Press Gang went back to the newspaper cuttings.

In a Western Mail report on Owen Smith’s selection in March 2010, the paper reported that he’d been selected after a second round of voting, winning by 104 votes to 74.

The article then states:

“Mr Smith … was supported by Kim Howells …”

Press Gang asked Owen Smith to clear up the contradiction.

There had been no reply by the time this article was published.

When Owen Smith was elected Labour MP for Pontypridd, he sold his Surrey home for £745,000.

♦♦♦ 

THE PROBLEM with Owen Smith is no-one knows what he really stands for.

In 2006 The Independent called him a “dyed-in-the-wool” New Labourite.

Now he’s the man to carry out the old Labour policies Jeremy Corbyn has revived.

Which of these two Owen Smiths is the real one?

Or is he just a political chameleon?

The manner in which he and his team have dealt with his past career is disturbing.

Take his political commitment.

“I grew up in South Wales during the miners’ strike, he says, “That’s when I came alive politically.”

He adds that he then joined the Labour Party in 1986.

Yet between 1986 and his selection as Labour candidate in the 2006 Blaenau Gwent by-election — two entire decades — there’s no evidence at all of any involvement in labour Party politics.

He doesn’t seem to have served a political apprenticeship at all.

Jeremy Corbyn, in contrast, was active in politics while at school, became a trade union official at 21 and a London councillor at 24.

In fact, Owen Smith’s career is much closer to David Cameron’s — a spell as a special adviser and years working in the corporate affairs of a major company.

When Smith says —

“I want to be a force for good in the world. Therefore, you need to achieve power. Nye Bevan, my great hero, said it’s all about achieving and exercising power. I’ve devoted my life to that.”

 — it’s the last sentence that rings false.

He’s been an active politician for just six years.

His attempt to push back from suggestions that his father helped his career is unconvincing.

He seems to believe any hint of nepotism and patronage is toxic to his reputation.

He doesn’t seem to understand that it’s not so much the fact that his father helped him — it’s the fact that he seeks to deny it.

He doesn’t seem to understand that it’s not so much what his salary was at Pfizer —  a huge salary is inevitable when working for a global combine — it’s the fact that he seeks to minimise it.

It’s a question of personal integrity.

If he can’t be trusted to give a true account of his own career, how can he be trusted to be the custodian of the values which Jeremy Corbyn has brought back into mainstream politics?

♦♦♦

THIS INVESTIGATION continues.

A crowdfunding project has been launched on the By-line site here.

♦♦♦
Published: 8 August 2016
© Press Gang
♦♦♦

Notes
1. The first part of this investigation was published on August 3 — Owen Smith: Forged By Patronage and Nepotism? Click on the title to read it.
2. Press Gang editor Paddy French declares personal interests in this story.
— in the 1980s he was the editor of Rebecca magazine which was in competition for a substantial Welsh Arts Council grant. One of the competitors was Arcade magazine and Dai Smith was one of its supporters. The council’s literature committee chose Rebecca but the full council overturned the decision — and gave the grant to Arcade.
— he’s one of the thousands of traditional Labour voters who have joined the party following Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Leader. He will be voting for Corbyn in the Leadership election.
3. The Rebecca investigation into nepotism and patronage at BBC Wales is explored in the articles The Son Of The Man From Uncle and In The Name Of The Father?
4. The cover block pic is by Gareth Fuller / PA.

♦♦♦

DONATIONS Investigative stories like this one are expensive and time-consuming to produce. You can help by making a contribution to the coffers. Just click on the logo …

Donate Button with Credit Cards

CORRECTIONS Please let us know if there are any mistakes in this article — they’ll be corrected as soon as possible.

RIGHT OF REPLY If you have been mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let us have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory we’ll add it to the article.

ASSAULT ON THE BANK OF ENGLAND

April 27, 2015

PM - ASSAULT

THE DAILY MIRROR broke the law on an industrial scale throughout Piers Morgan’s editorship.

And police have had the evidence for more than a decade.

Already —in Whodunnit?Press Gang has shown the paper used a private eye to carry out illegal news-gathering in the early 2000s.

This included evidence that former Daily Mirror reporter Tom Newton Dunn — now political editor of the Sun — allegedly ordered a criminal record check on a sitting MP.

Piers Morgan claims he was ignorant of all of this.

He told the Leveson Inquiry he “had no specific recollection of any stories which depended on the work of private investigators …”

He insisted he was “not aware” of any private investigators “having been found to have engaged in any criminal activity … or of any Daily Mirror employee having any involvement in such law-breaking.” 

Press Gang presents new evidence that further undermines this testimony.

The Daily Mirror was routinely using a controversial private eye in the late 1990s to illegally access confidential information about the rich and powerful.

One of the most dramatic examples — the paper’s decision to break into the bank and building society accounts of a powerful Bank of England committee … 

♦♦♦

IT’S A WEDNESDAY morning at the Daily Mirror offices in Canary Wharf.

On the 22nd floor of the big skyscraper — One Canada Square —  the morning conference is under way.

The meeting is taking place in editor Piers Morgan’s corner office.

The next day’s paper — Thursday, 8 October 1998 — is being planned.

One of the items on the agenda: how the paper will cover tomorrow’s lunchtime announcement from the Bank of England on interest rates.

It’s important because a fall in the rate — currently 7.5 per cent — is widely expected.

It will be the first for many years.

The decision — to be made by the nine members of the Bank’s monetary policy committee — could affect the pockets of many Daily Mirror readers.

TARGETS THE NINE members of the Bank of England's monetary committee in 1998. All were the subject of an illegal

TARGETS
MEMBERS OF the Bank of England’s monetary committee in 1998. Many of them were the subject of an illegal “dark arts” operation organised by Piers Morgan’s Daily Mirror. Although the attack has been mentioned by other journalists — including Nick Davies (Guardian) and Robert Peston (BBC) — this is the first time the full story has ever been told.
Photo: PA

For Thursday’s paper, it’s already been decided the Mirror will find out about the mortgages of the nine committee members.

But there’s an elephant in the room.

Few in the conference will acknowledge it.

But some know collecting the information will involve breaking the law.

None of the members of the monetary committee will volunteer information about their mortgages. 

So the paper will have to resort to illegal techniques to obtain them.

These methods — later they’ll include phone hacking — are known as the “dark arts”. 

The task’s been handed to the paper’s resident “dark arts” master — senior news reporter Gary Jones. 

He served his apprenticeship on the News of the World.

He was the paper’s crime reporter when Piers Morgan was News of the World editor in 1994 and 1995. 

Jones followed Morgan to the Daily Mirror in 1996. 

Jones knows exactly who to contact to find out about the mortgages of the Bank of England committee members.

This is the private eye Jonathan Rees. 

Rees is a partner in Southern Investigations, a London firm specialising in acquiring illegal information. 

BENT PRIVATE EYE IN JONATHAN REES, the Daily Mirror is choosing a controversial character to do its dirty work. He's a long-standing suspect in the 1987 murder of his business partner Daniel Morgan. In 2009 he will stand trial for the murder only for the case to collapse in 2011. By then he will have served a seven year prison sentence for conspiring to plant cocaine on an innocent woman. See The No 1 Corrupt Detective Agency for more details. Photo: PA

BENT PRIVATE EYE
IN JONATHAN REES, the Daily Mirror is choosing a controversial character to do its dirty work. He’s a long-standing suspect in the 1987 murder of his business partner Daniel Morgan. In 2009 he will stand trial for the murder only for the case to collapse in 2011. By then he will have served a seven year prison sentence for conspiring to plant cocaine on an innocent woman. See The No 1 Corrupt Detective Agency for more details.
Photo: PA

By lunchtime on Wednesday, 7 October Rees has come up with the goods. 

Gary Jones and reporter Oonagh Blackman get together to write the story …

♦♦♦

THE NEXT day’s Daily Mirror carries an exclusive investigation.

Under the by-lines of Oonagh Blackman and Gary Jones, the story states:

“As millions sweat on a home loans cut, we reveal it’s
ALL RATE FOR SOME
Homeowners will have their mortgage rate fixed today by financiers so wealthy that they won’t be affected if it rises or falls.”

The piece reveals five members have no mortgage at all.

UNLAWFUL THE MIRROR'S exclusive report by Gary Jones and Oonagh Blackman is based on information obtained by

UNLAWFUL
THE MIRROR’S exclusive report by Gary Jones and Oonagh Blackman is based on information obtained by “blagging” — ringing banks and building societies and pretending to represent committee members. Blagging is a criminal offence under the Data Protection Act.

Some of this information could have come from legitimate sources — such as the government-owned Land Registry. 

But details of mortgages held by three members could only have been obtained unlawfully.

The piece says deputy Governor Mervyn King — who will later become Governor — has a £48,000 mortgage.

His apartment in Notting Hill costs him £400 a month in interest payments.

The Cobham, Surrey home of ex-CIA analyst and businesswoman DeAnne Julius costs £2,500 a month. 

She has a £200,000 mortgage. 

Dutch economist Professor Willem Buiter is paying £685 a month. 

He has an £80,000 mortgage on his cottage in the Bedfordshire village of Great Gransden. 

The paper goes to extraordinary lengths to find out about properties owned by the nine. 

There is some doubt about the extent of committee member Ian Plenderleith’s property near Petworth in West Sussex.

So Jonathan Rees sends an “agent” down to Petworth to make a sketch plan of the grounds.

Shortly after the article appears, the committee cut the interest rate from 7.5 per cent to 7.25 per cent.

SILENCE THERE'S NO mention of the illegal assault on the Bank of England in Piers Morgan's 2005 book, The Insider. His diary entry for 7 October 1998 — the day the attack was being prepared — concentrates on a refusal by the columnist Victor Lewis-Smith to come to lunch ... Photo: PA

SILENCE
THERE’S NO mention of the illegal assault on the Bank of England in Piers Morgan’s 2005 book, The Insider. His diary entry for 7 October 1998 — the day the attack was being prepared — concentrates on a refusal by the columnist Victor Lewis-Smith to come to lunch …
Photo: PA

♦♦♦

FOUR DAYS after the exclusive, Jonathan Rees sends three invoices to the Daily Mirror accounts department.

The total is £1,936.

There is little detail — all relate to “undertaking confidential enquiries”.

But a separate statement is sent to Gary Jones personally.

It’s marked

FOR YOUR INFORMATION ONLY  

This is more revealing.

It shows £361 of the bill is for legitimate purposes.

But it also makes clear that much of the remaining £1,575 is unlawful.

This amount is for nine separate searches of the committee members:

” … identifying their mortgage details as directed.”

The invoice even shows that Rees gave the paper a discount.

Instead of the normal rate of £275 a search, Rees had reduced the price to £175! 

Rees deliberately sends vague invoices to the Mirror accounts department because he knows he’s breaking the law.

So does Gary Jones.

In the Mirror newsroom is a copy of the reporters’ legal bible — McNae’s Essential Law For Journalists.

DARK ARTS MASTER GARY JONES is one of the key figures in the Daily Mirror's involvement with illegal news-gathering. In the first part of

DARK ARTS MASTER
GARY JONES is one of the key figures in the Daily Mirror’s involvement with illegal news-gathering. In the first part of A Pretty Despicable Man, Press Gang outlined his extensive use of the private eye Steve Whittamore in the early 2000s. Jones — now executive editor of the Sunday Mirror — has never replied to any of our questions …

It includes a chapter on the Data Protection Act (DPA).

The DPA had been amended by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994 to create three new criminal offences:

“— procuring the disclosure of data covered by the … Act

— knowing or believing this to contravene the Act

— or offering to sell the data or information extracted from it.”

The Mirror has already published two separate articles about police officers charged with offences under the Data Protection Act.

A year before the assault on the Bank of England, the paper carries the conviction of a masonic police constable from Wiltshire.

He’d checked the Police National Computer to find out the identity of a fellow mason’s lover.

More evidence that Rees and Jones knew they were breaking the law was to emerge in 1999.

Scotland Yard detectives secretly bugged Rees’ office in south London.

Police listened as Rees and Jones argued about the amount of detail going into invoices to the paper.

The Mirror accounts department want more information.

Rees is adamant he isn’t going to give it:

” … because what we are doing is illegal, innit?”

“I don’t want people coming in and nicking us for criminal offences …”

All of the information in this account comes from documents held by Scotland Yard.

There’s no evidence detectives ever considered prosecuting Jonathan Rees and Gary Jones.

♦♦♦

TWO MONTHS after the operation against the bank of England, the Daily Mirror has another bank in its sights.

This time it’s Coutts & Co — bankers to the Royal Family.

The target is the Queen’s cousin, Prince Michael of Kent.

His commercial activities are handled by a private company — Cantium Ltd — which banks at Coutts HQ in the Strand.

Once again, the private eye involved is Jonathan Rees.

And his contact at the paper is Gary Jones.

Rees has already written to Jones giving numbers of three of the company’s Coutts accounts.

ROYAL BANKERS THE HEADQUARTERS of Coutts & Co in the Strand, London. The Daily Mirror's blagger had no trouble getting the details of three accounts belonging to the Queen's cousin, Prince Michael of Kent. Photo: Rebecca Television

ROYAL BANKERS
THE HEADQUARTERS of Coutts & Co in the Strand, London. The Daily Mirror blagger had no trouble getting the details of three accounts belonging to Prince Michael of Kent, the Queen’s cousin.
Photo: Rebecca Television

Now Rees asks John Gunning — of his team of “blaggers” — to ring the bank pretending to represent Prince Michael.

(Gunning will later be caught trying to blag confidential information out of BT.

In 2006 he’ll be convicted and fined £600.)

The next day — 26 January 1999 —  Prince Michael of Kent is on the front page of the paper with the headline:

PRINCE’S BANK CRISIS

The story says the company’s bank accounts are overdrawn to the tune of £220,000. 

It claims the overdraft is unauthorised — and that Coutts has frozen the accounts.

The operation against the Prince costs the Mirror £546.37.

In April 1999 the Scotland Yard bug in Jonathan Rees’ office picks up a phone call about this story.

The police note says Rees has been told Prince Michael is suing the Daily Mirror.

“The legal people wanted [Rees] to verify the information and state how he obtained it.”

Rees refuses.

In June 1999 — unable to prove its allegations without revealing the information is illegally obtained — the Mirror is forced to climb down.

The paper says

“… none of the accounts of Prince Michael … have been frozen or suspended and there have never been any unauthorised overdraft balances on any of those accounts.”

The Mirror adds:

“We accept that our original allegations were untrue …”

On this occasion, Scotland Yard did consider the case to see if any criminal offences had been committed.

A report seen by Press Gang states:

“The relevant evidence shows that Rees obtained personal data — the account numbers of Cantium — and then sold that information to Gary Jones.”

“The relevant offence … is covered by Section 55 [4] Data Protection Act … — Selling Personal Data.”

“This offence may be capable of proof.”

No further action is ever taken by the Metropolitan Police.

♦♦♦

IN JANUARY 1999 Prince Michael of Kent isn’t the only Royal in the Mirror’s frame.

Earlier the same month, it’s the Queen’s third son — Prince Edward.

He’s just become engaged to Sophie Rhys-Jones.

The Mirror orders “financial / company information on” the Prince and his new fiancée.

The Prince’s television production company —  Ardent Productions — has its accounts at Coutts. 

On January 5 Rees sends Gary Jones a bill for £339.57 for obtaining Ardent Productions’ “bankers details”. 

On January 12 Jones gets another bill — for £446.49.

This is for providing “financial / company information” on “R-JH PR, Ardent Productions”.

On this occasion, the blagger is John Gunning.

He targets Coutts and Lloyds Bank.   

At the time, Sophie Rhys-Jones is running a PR firm with the publicist Murray Harkin.

The business banks with Lloyds in the City of London. 

BLAGGED SOPHIE RHYS-JONES and Murray Harkin were partners in the public relations business RJH PR. Harkin remembers getting a call from Lloyds Bank during this period.

BLAGGED
SOPHIE RHYS-JONES and Murray Harkin were partners in the public relations business RJH PR. Harkin confirmed getting a call from Lloyds Bank during this period. “I was told they knew someone had successfully — after many attempts, perhaps as many as 26 — guessed my password and obtained confidential information.”
Photo: PA

John Gunning invoices Jonathan Rees.

His bill contains details of Lloyds Bank account number 121131 — the account of RJH PR — and its credit balance: £9,761.34.

Gunning even manages to obtain details of a personal account of Sophie Rhys-Jones’ at the same branch.

This account has a zero balance.  

None of this information ever appears in the Mirror.

It’s a fishing expedition.

But the Scotland Yard assessment of the case — seen by Press Gang — is clear criminal offences have been committed:  

” … the detail of Rhys-Jones’ bank account — both business and personal — prove evidence of procuring the disclosure to another of personal data.”

Rees “… also commits the offence of selling the information …”

There is no mention of Gary Jones — the man who commissions the criminal activity.

The report concludes:

“It is obvious that additional enquiries would have to be made to confirm details but the basic points to prove are present.”

Scotland Yard takes no further action. 

A spokeswoman for Prince Edward and Sophie, Countess of Wessex declined to comment. 

Murray Harkin told Press Gang he will be instructing solicitors to ask the Metropolitan Police to release the documents it holds.

He added:

“if a criminal offence has been undertaken then I believe that the people responsible should be accountable.”

The Daily Mirror’s long-standing comment on the use of Jonathan Rees is that “many years ago some of our journalists used Southern Investigations.”

“They were last used in 1999.”

“Trinity Mirror’s position is clear. Our journalists work within the criminal law and the PCC code of conduct.”

SCOTLAND YARD THE DOCUMENTS on which this article is based come from the Met's Operation Two Bridges which targeted Jonathan Rees in 1998-1999. They were first leaked in 2002 by senior figures in the Met to the former BBC reporter Graeme McLagan after Rees was gaoled for conspiring to plant drugs on an innocent woman. Since then many reporters have also obtained copies of the material. Photo: Rebecca Television

SCOTLAND YARD
THE MET have been sitting on the documents used in this article ever since 1999.  They come from Operation Two Bridges which targeted Jonathan Rees in 1998-1999. Some of them were first given by senior figures in the Met to the then BBC Home Affairs correspondent Graeme McLagan in 2002 after Rees was gaoled for conspiring to plant drugs on an innocent woman. 
Photo: Rebecca Television

♦♦♦

THE MIRROR’S relationship with Jonathan Rees was shattered on 29 September 1999.

On that day, detectives arrested Rees in connection with a conspiracy to deprive an innocent woman of her child.

Police had bugged Rees’ office in Thornton Heath, south London and heard the plot unfold.

A client of Rees was involved in a custody battle with his estranged wife.

Rees suggested arranging with a corrupt police detective to plant cocaine in her car.

Police were watching as the drugs were planted and the woman arrested.

Then they pounced.

In raids across London, detectives gathered the evidence on which this article is based.

Rees was gaoled for six years for his part in the cocaine conspiracy.

When he appealed against the length of his sentence, it was increased it to seven.

Scotland Yard also wanted to charge Sunday Mirror reporter Doug Kempster for paying a police officer for confidential information.

Piers Morgan had no connection with the Sunday Mirror.

The CPS decided not to prosecute.

Despite this scare, the Daily Mirror’s addiction to the “dark arts” continued.

PIERS MORGAN THE FORMER Daily Mirror editor in happier times with his old friends Andy Coulson (gaoled) and Rebekah Brooks (acquitted). Six days ago — on April 21 — Morgan was interviewed by Scotland Yard detectives from Operation Golding about phone hacking while he was Mirror editor. This followed an earlier interview at the end of 2013. He was not arrested on either occasion. As well as his ITV programme Life Stories, Morgan is also US

PIERS MORGAN
THE FORMER Daily Mirror editor in happier times with his old friends Andy Coulson (ex-editor News of the World: gaoled) and Rebekah Brooks (ex-editor The Sun: acquitted). Six days ago — on April 21 — Morgan was interviewed under caution by Scotland Yard detectives from Operation Golding investigating phone hacking while he was Mirror editor. This followed an earlier interview at the end of 2013. He was not arrested on either occasion. As well as his ITV programme Life Stories, Morgan is currently US “editor-at-large” for the Daily Mail online website. He does not comment on Press Gang articles …
Photo: Richard Young / Rex

The paper simply turned to another private eye — Steve Whittamore.

Illegal news-gathering continued for a further three years until Whittamore was arrested in 2003.

For more on this, see the Press Gang article Whodunnit? 

♦♦♦

Published: 27 April 2015
© Press Gang 

♦♦♦ 

NEXT
DOWN IN THE GUTTER
A FORENSIC examination of Piers Morgan’s celebrated appearance on Desert Island Discs in 2009. He told presenter Kirsty Young phone hacking was one of the “down in the gutter” tactics used on the Daily Mirror.

What he didn’t tell her was that she, too, had been a target of the paper’s “gutter” tactics. In 1998 the paper mounted a surveillance operation to prove she was having an affair with a married man.
The story is also pregnant with the possibility it was based on phone hacking …

 ♦♦♦

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CORRECTIONS
Please let us know if there are any mistakes in this article — they’ll be corrected as soon as possible.

RIGHT OF REPLY
If you have been mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let us have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory we’ll add it to the article.

NUMBER 10 SILENT ON “FAKE SHEIK” INTERVENTION

December 22, 2014
SERIAL PART 5
 THE GOVERNMENT has declined to answer questions about a legal bid to stop the BBC Panorama exposé of Sun reporter Mazher Mahmood.

Attorney General Jeremy Wright tried to persuade the Corporation not to broadcast the investigation.

Wright is a political appointee and attends Cabinet.

No. 10 said it didn’t “comment on legal advice provided by law officers.” 

The BBC ignored the pressure and transmitted the “Fake Sheik: Exposed” programme on November 12.

Another public body, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is refusing to answer an allegation that it gave out false information about the case.

Sources claim CPS officials said at the end of October that a charging decision on Mahmood was due within two weeks.

Today, two months later, no decision has been announced … 

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Police have been treating Mahmood himself with kid gloves. 

Press Gang has learnt detectives from Operation Silverhawk — the investigation into Mahmood’s false testimony in the Tulisa Contostavlos trial last July — decided not to arrest him.

Instead, officers arranged an appointment with him and his lawyer.

He was interviewed under caution. 

No warrant was sought to search his home in West London.

Mahmood’s “kid glove” treatment is in stark contrast to the “iron fist” used for Contostavlos.

She was arrested just two days after he published an article accusing her of conspiracy to supply drugs.

Her arrest — based solely on Mahmood’s evidence — took place by appointment at a police station.

Police also obtained a warrant and searched her home.

♦♦♦

THE FULL story behind the twice-delayed Panorama programme “Fake Sheik: Exposed” has not been told. 

By the time the piece was finally shown, on Wednesday, November 12, the BBC had beaten off a determined bid to have it stopped or at least watered down.

MAZHER MAHMOOD Lawyers acting for the "fake sheik" tried to persuade the court not to allow the BBC to show this recent picture of Mahmood. The judge rejected the argument that it would put him and his family at risk of potential violence from victims he'd exposed in the past. In fact, no-one bent on harming Mahmood would have any difficulty tracking him down — it took Press Gang fifteen minutes to do so. He and his wife Sadaf own two flats in a 1930s mansion block in the Kensington area of London: he lives in one while she occupies the other along with their young son. Photo: BBC

MAZHER MAHMOOD
LAWYERS ACTING for the “fake sheik” tried to persuade the court to ban the BBC from showing this recent picture of Mahmood. The judge rejected the argument that it would put him and his family at risk of potential violence from victims he’d exposed in the past. In fact, anyone seriously bent on harming Mahmood would have little difficulty tracking him down — it took Press Gang fifteen minutes to do so. He and his wife Sadaf own two flats in a 1930s mansion block in the London borough of Kensington & Chelsea: he lives in one while she occupies the other with their young son.
Photo: BBC

The campaign started on October 31, Halloween.

The BBC had just written to Mahmood telling him the thrust of the Panorama investigation and inviting him to respond.

Lawyers from Kingsley Napley, acting for Mahmood, quickly swung into action.

Their strategy was to attack on the programme on several fronts.

The first was an approach to the Attorney General, Jeremy Wright, a barrister and Tory MP who attends Cabinet.

Their argument was that because Mahmood was under investigation and might be charged the programme not in the public interest. 

That approach led to the Attorney General writing to the BBC warning that the programme: 

“may have the potential to prejudice any trial, should Mr Mahmood be charged.”

In a later email Wright added:

” … IF the Contempt of Court Act does come into play — by Mr Mahmood being arrested or charged — the position would be different.”

JEREMY WRIGHT QC, MP THE COALITION'S senior law official tried to per Photo: Attorney General's Office

JEREMY WRIGHT QC, MP
THE COALITION’S senior law official tried to persuade Panorama not to show the exposé of the “fake sheilk”. Last week his press office denied that Wright had discussed the issue with David Cameron: “He did not consult the Prime Minister.” 
Photo: Attorney General’s Office

Some observers believe this was a coded reference to signals coming from another government department — the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

At the end of October CPS officials were informally telling journalists a decision on whether or not to charge Mahmood was likely to be made within a couple of weeks.

This was obviously untrue — today, nearly two months later, Operation Silverhawk is still active and no charges have been brought.

The CPS press office would not answer questions:

“we are a very small team, and have simply not had the time to deal with your query properly yet“.

Some BBC staff felt the combination of the false CPS briefing and the warnings from the Attorney General were part of a concerted attempt by pro-Murdoch forces to “spook” Director General Tony Hall and chairwoman Rona Fairchild into axing the programme.

Last week the Attorney General’s office told Press Gang:

“In matters of contempt, the Attorney General acts in his role as guardian of the public interest, independent of government.”

“He did not consult the Prime Minister.”

A spokeswoman for No. 10 told us:

“We don’t comment on legal advice provided by law officers.”

♦♦♦

WHILE THE government’s legal wing was trying to prevent the programme altogether, Mahmood’s lawyers were in court trying to water it down.

They applied for an injunction preventing the BBC from showing up-to-date footage of the “fake sheik”.

The hearing, before Sir David Eady, took place at an all-day session at the Royal Courts of Justice on Halloween, October 31.

Mahmood was represented by a barrister instructed by Kingsley Napley.

Press Gang asked News UK if it was paying Mahmood’s legal bills.

The company didn’t answer the question. 

SILVERHAWK CONTINUES LAST WEEK the Met told Press Gang that a file on the Mahmood case has now been submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service. The file presents the evidence against Mahmood and asks  advice about whether the reporter can be charged with perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice in the Tulisa Contostavlos case.  Photo: Rebecca Television

SILVERHAWK CONTINUES …
LAST WEEK the Met told Press Gang that a file on the Mahmood case has now been submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service. The file presents the evidence against Mahmood and asks advice about whether the reporter can be charged with perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice. The Met also confirmed that the investigation is on-going …
Photo: Rebecca Television

In court, Mahmood’s team argued the programme should not show new images of him because he and his family would be at risk.

During the presentation, they revealed that police had interviewed Mahmood and pointed out that the programme might prejudice any trial.

They also claimed Panorama’s investigation was flawed because it relied on the testimony of former members of Mahmood’s “sting gang” who were motivated by revenge.

The injunction was not granted.

But Mahmood’s team were given leave to appeal and the hearing was listed for Monday, November 3.

That was the day the programme was scheduled to go out.

The BBC decided to postpone it.

On Monday, November 3 the appeal was refused.

The postponed programme was then re-scheduled for the following Monday, November 10.

But hours before this transmission lawyers acting for Mahmood submitted a tape which, they claimed, undermined the credibility of one of Panorama’s key witnesses.

The BBC decided to hold back the programme to assess the new material.

By Wednesday, November 12 they’d done so — and decided the programme would go ahead.

Normally, it would have gone out in the next available Panorama slot — Monday, November 17.

Now, however the Corporation faced a dilemma.

If the Crown Prosecution Service rumours were correct — and a decision on charging Mahmood was imminent — then he might be charged before the Monday.

A decision was taken to amend that day’s schedules.

The programme finally aired at 7.30 that night, November 12.

There were two reasons why the BBC was determined to show the Panorama investigation into Mahmood.

The first was that it was determined to demonstrate  its investigative credibility.

RUPERT MURDOCH WHY DOES one of the world's most powerful men continue to support the discredited Mahmood — a man accused by a judge of lying in the witness box?     Photo: PA

RUPERT MURDOCH
WHY DOES one of the world’s most powerful men continue to support the discredited Mahmood — a man accused by a judge of lying in the witness-box?
Photo: PA

This had been damaged by the Newsnight child abuse scandals.

The Corporation was severely criticised for censoring a Newsnight item in 2011 alleging that Jimmy Savile was a child abuser.

Newsnight then falsely accused Lord McAlpine of child abuse in November 2012.

The second was that the Corporation’s new Director of News & Current Affairs, James Harding, is a former editor of Rupert Murdoch’s Times newspaper.

Harding had endured a fractious relationship with the tycoon in his last few years as editor and was determined to demonstrate his independence.

♦♦♦

THE ROLE of the Metropolitan Police has raised questions about its impartiality. 

Critics say the force has bent over backwards to try to shield the “fake sheik”.

The decision by Operation Silverhawk not to arrest him is a key criticism.

Another is the length of time it’s taken detectives to send a file to the Crown Prosecution Service for a decision on charging.

The case against Mahmood is a relatively simple affair.

There is no denying Mahmood lied when he gave evidence at the trial.

The only issues are:

— did the lie amount to perjury ?

— and was it designed to pervert the course of justice?

Normally, a police investigation would have been completed within a matter of weeks.

The second charge against the Met is that it has decided not to widen the investigation to other cases where Mahmood was the principal witness.

As early as November 2012 — long before the Tulisa Contostavlos case — Press Gang asked the Met to investigate Mahmood for “serial perjury”.

In a letter to then Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers, we pointed out that Mahmood had lied under oath at the Leveson Inquiry about the number of criminal convictions he had to his name.

He claimed more than 250 — our investigation found only 70.

Our investigation prompted lawyers acting for Rupert Murdoch to carry out their own investigation.

Their report — which has never been released — found just 94.

The Press Gang letter to Akers pointed out that, in the course of our investigation, we found indications that Mahmood might also have lied on oath about his convictions in some of the criminal cases he gave evidence in.

The letter detailed one case — the gaoling of the TV actor John Alford for nine months in 1999 after a Mahmood sting.

That sting was remarkably similar to the operation mounted against Tulisa Contostavlos. 

At Alford’s unsuccessful appeal, the court noted Mahmood’s claim that he had 89 successful criminal prosecutions to his name.

That statement — which added credibility to Mahmood’s evidence — cannot be true.

By 1999, our analysis of Mahmood’s convictions showed only 28. 

Our letter asked the Met “to examine Mr Mahmood’s testimony in all the court cases he gave evidence in to see if he has potentially committed perjury …”  

JOHN ALFORD THE ACTOR'S acting carreer was destroyed after he was gaoled in 1999 for drugs offences following a "fake sheik" sting. Press Gang told the Met more than two years ago that there was evidence Mahmood also lied in this trial ... Photo: PA

JOHN ALFORD
THE ACTOR’S acting career was destroyed after he was gaoled in 1999 for drugs offences following a “fake sheik” sting. Press Gang told the Met more than two years ago that there was evidence Mahmood lied in Alford’s trial …
Photo: PA

The Met acknowledged the letter and promised a reply from a senior officer.

It never came.

Last week we raised this issue with the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), the police watchdog.

We asked them to explore the reasons behind the Met’s failure to answer the letter we sent to Sue Akers.

And we requested an examination of the failure to investigate the allegation of perjury in the Alford  case.

An IPCC spokesman said the complaint was being considered.

♦♦♦

ONE REASON why Rupert Murdoch’s News UK may have fought so hard to stop the Panorama programme is the fear of civil actions.

In the phone hacking scandal, much of the damage done to the News of the World came from revelations generated by individuals suing the newspaper.

There are signs that this is beginning to happen in the Mahmood scandal.

The CPS has now written to 25 of Mahmood’s victims warning them that they may have grounds to challenge their criminal convictions.

One of these is John Alford.

His solicitor Siobhain Egan has also been contacted by three other individuals with convictions as a result of Mahmood’s stings.

Another 18 people affected by Mahmood’s undercover operations have contacted the lawyer Mark Lewis.

Lewis played a key role in the civil litigation that helped unravel the industrial scale of phone-hacking at the Murdoch tabloids.

The Press Gang investigation into Mazher Mahmood continues … 

♦♦♦
Published: 22 December 2014
© Press Gang (part of Re
becca Television)
♦♦♦

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COMING UP IN THE NEW YEAR
“A PRETTY DESPICABLE MAN”
PART TWO: ASSAULT ON THE BANK OF ENGLAND

THE “DARK ARTS” were practised on an industrial scale at the Daily Mirror when Piers Morgan was editor. An extraordinary example took place in 1998 when the paper ordered private eyes to break into the mortgage accounts of every member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee. A Pretty Despicable Man continues with a revealing analysis of the paper’s cynical bank jobs…

CORRECTIONS  Please let us know if there are any mistakes in this article — they’ll be corrected as soon as possible.

RIGHT OF REPLY  If you have been mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let us have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory we’ll add it to the article.

WITHERING HEIGHTS

November 22, 2014

Mahmood_head_with_words_04

THE PANORAMA exposé of Mazher Mahmood revealed the methods the “fake sheik” used at the News of the World and the Sun on Sunday.

But he also used the same unscrupulous tactics during his two spells on the Sunday Times.

Mahmood was a reporter in the 1980s and re-joined the paper for more than a year after the closure of the News of the World in 2011.

One man who knows about Mahmood’s troubled career is John Witherow, the current editor of The Times.

Witherow worked in the Sunday Times newsroom in the 1980s when many of Mahmood’s stories had to be corrected.

He was also there when Mahmood was fired in 1989 for tampering with computer records.

But after the death of the News of the World — by which time Witherow was Sunday Times editor — he still decided to take him on.

And, of course, Mahmood was soon up to his old tricks.

Press Gang investigates a sordid tale of journalistic prostitution.

♦♦♦ 

IN APRIL 2012 the Sunday Times carried a dramatic front page.

The headline — “100,000 women mutilated in UK”.

The paper claimed they’d been subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM).

Reporters Mazher Mahmood and Eleanor Mills, the paper’s associate editor, said they had caught a doctor and a dentist:

“offering to circumcise girls as young as 10 or help to arrange for the procedure to be carried out.”

Female circumcision is illegal in the UK.

The detailed story of the undercover operation was carried on an inside double page spread.

A woman journalist, posing as a woman who wanted her nieces circumcised, went to see Dr Ali Mao-Aweys.

Dr Mao-Aweys operated a private clinic in Birmingham.

The paper recorded him saying:

“I have a doctor that will do [it].”

“He is here in Birmingham.”

He gave the undercover reporter the name of Birmingham dentist Omar Addow.

The reporter went to see the dentist.

Initially, according to the report, Addow was wary but eventually agreed to perform the operation:

“I’ll do it for you.”

“Okay, I’ll do it for you.”

“I need to organise very well … nobody should know [anything about] it — between you, me and Allah only.”

Earlier he had said he was opposed:

“It’s not allowed in this country,” he said.

“It’s really dangerous — you, everybody go to jail.”

MAZHER MAHMOOD THE PICTURE Rupert Murdoch's News UK tried to stop Panorama  on 12.   Photo: BBC

MAZHER MAHMOOD
THE PICTURE the “fake sheik” tried to stop Panorama showing in its November 12 programme. Judge Sir David Eady threw out an application that showing recent images would endanger him and his family.
Photo: BBC

“Myself, Omar, personally I am against the ritual circumcision of the female …”

The paper reported that he relaxed when the reporter mentioned Dr Mao-Aweys’ referral.

The reporter and the dentist then went to his nearby flat “to discuss the matter privately” where he agreed to carry out a limited form of the procedure.

The Sunday Times passed the evidence to the police.

Two weeks later Mazher Mahmood reported that the two men had been arrested.

He quoted West Midlands Detective Inspector Caroline Marsh:

“I am grateful to the Sunday Times for the information provided and we are currently investigating what we regard as very serious allegations.”

On the face of it, a fine piece of investigative work on a subject of national importance.

But the story soon began to unravel …

♦♦♦

IT STARTED just a few months later, in September 2012, when the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided not to bring charges.

There was “insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction.”

Harry Ireland, chief crown prosecutor for the West Midlands, was blunt:

“The main evidence in this case is from the undercover journalist or agent but she has consistently failed to sign her draft statement for the police despite being given every opportunity to do so over the past five months.”

He added:

“I also have concerns over discrepancies between her draft statement and the evidence from the covert recordings.”

“For example, at one stage, the covert recordings record the doctors refusing to help the woman with her request.”

“I am also troubled by the fact that the covert recordings disclose a time gap which is insufficiently accounted for when the undercover journalist or agent apparently went with one of the doctors from the surgery to his home.”

JOHN WITHEROW THE EDITOR of the Sunday Times didn't answer emails about Mazher mahmood until after Channel 4 News began to nvestigate ...  Photo: PA

JOHN MOORE WITHEROW
NOW EDITOR of The Times, Witherow has done nothing to bring Mazher Mahmood to book — even though he’s probably known that the “fake sheik” has been a rogue reporter for more than twenty years.
Photo: PA

“Unless there is a very compelling explanation for this, the covert evidence is very unlikely to be admissible in evidence.”

“That evidence has not been forthcoming.”

“A search of the suspects’ homes, computers and phones failed to provide any evidence that they were involved in any way in this illegal practice.”

“A financial investigation has also found no evidence of suspicious transactions which might then merit further investigation.”

Ireland did not explain why he described the woman as “journalist or agent” instead of just “journalist”.

Nor did he give any further details about the nature of the “time gap” which troubled him.

The Sunday Times told the Guardian:

“We stand by our investigation and contest the statement made by the CPS.”

There was no report of the CPS decision in the Sunday Times.

♦♦♦

A FULLER version of the events leading up to the story didn’t emerge until a General Dental Council disciplinary hearing against Omar Addow in August 2013.

Only the Independent carried a report of the proceedings.

It described what happened when the undercover reporter went to the dentist’s surgery:

“When the reporter’s stomach apparently started rumbling, Mr Addow carried out ‘percussion’ and examined her abdomen, the hearing was told.”

“This led to him checking her breasts for abnormalities and performing a vaginal ‘exploration’ before inviting her back to his flat, it is claimed.”

“The journalist recorded the visit to the flat on a hidden “handbag-cam”, for which Mr [Mazher] Mahmood … supplied the batteries.”

“Soon after arriving, the journalist — described on the film as being 33 and of Ghanaian origin — disappears into the bedroom with Dr Addow for over an hour, the hearing was told.”

The Independent then quotes Tom Kark, QC who represented the General Dental Council:

“When he leaves the bedroom, he appears to be wearing a sarong.”

GLASS HOUSES THE NEW skyscraper home of Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper empire in London. All glass and light, it promises a new era in operness and transparency. But the company hasn't changed — and refuses to answer Press Gang questions  about Mazher Mahmood.  Photo: Rebecca Television

GLASS HOUSE
THE NEW skyscraper home of Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper empire in London. All glass and light, it promises a new era in openness and transparency. But the company  refuses to answer Press Gang questions about Mazher Mahmood …
Photo: Rebecca Television

The newspaper reports Kark as adding:

“It appears he and the journalist have sexual intercourse.”

“We may form the view that the journalist had gone to extra lengths to get her story”.

Addow told police:

“We did sex.”

Before the pair went into the bedroom, the dentist had insisted he was opposed to FGM.

The Independent notes:

“It was only after they had disappeared into a room for an hour that the dentist was recorded on the handbag-cam saying:

” ‘I will do it for you. Between you, me and Allah only’.”

The Sunday Times told the Independent:

“The journalist in question was a freelance engaged in a legitimate undercover investigation into female genital mutilation which is a matter of public interest.”

“She denies having had sexual intercourse or any other sexually intimate contact with Mr Addow.”

The Sunday Times did not report these proceedings.

The General Dental Council later found Addow guilty of conducting an intimate examination of the woman and of offering to perform FGM.

He was struck off.

The Sunday Times reported the decision.

It also included the comment that Addow:

“… claimed he and the female journalist had had sex at his home.”

TULISA  THE SINGER'S case was the straw that broke the camel's back. After decades of tolerance from the Crown Prosecution Service and the judiciary, the judge in the case suddenly saw Mahmood in his true light ... Photo: PA

TULISA CONTOSTAVLOS
THE SINGER’S case was the straw that broke the camel’s back. After decades of tolerance from the Crown Prosecution Service and the judiciary, the judge in the case suddenly saw Mahmood in his true colours … a perjuror.
Photo: PA

The report added:

“The journalist denies having sex with Addow.”

In May this year, the doctor who introduced Addow to the journalist was also struck off.  

The Sunday Times reported that Dr Ali Mao-Aweys had been removed from the General Medical Register by a fitness-to-practice panel.

The paper did not report the panel’s comment about some of the undercover journalist’s recordings:

“The panel noted there are long silences in the recordings which have not been explained by either party.”

“The panel has not been made aware of what occurred during these silences although it was concerned by their length.”

♦♦♦

PRESS GANG emailed Eleanor Mills, now Executive Editor of the Sunday Times.

Initially, she told us: 

“The CPS decided the evidence wasn’t robust enough to prosecute because of some problems with the tape.”

“I was very disappointed as I think it is ridiculous to have a law in the books under which there has never been a prosecution.”
This was before the damning General Dental Council hearing where the prosecuting QC Tom Kark said the journalist had sex with Addow.

We wrote again.

We asked why the Crown Prosecution Service described the woman involved in the sting as a “journalist or agent”.

Was she a journalist or wasn’t she?

We also asked if she was a long-standing member of Mahmood’s team.

We then put the key question:

“The central allegation hovering throughout this story is that you and Mahmood either encouraged, permitted or tolerated a woman working for you to prostitute herself in order to persuade the dentist to offer to carry out FGM.”

“Before she went into the bedroom at his flat, he was insisting he was opposed to the practice and would not do it.”

“After an hour, she and the dentist reappeared — Mr Addow wearing only a sarong —  and he agreed to do it.”

Mills did not reply.

We asked her to forward our email to Mazher Mahmood.

He didn’t answer.

Eleanor Mills is president of the organisation Women in Journalism.

♦♦♦

WE ALSO sent a copy of the email to John Witherow.

He’s now editor of The Times.

He didn’t reply.

Witherow should have known that Mazher Mahmood was a rogue reporter.

He worked alongside him in the Sunday Times newsroom back in the late 1980s.

The two men even shared a by-line on a prophetic story in March 1986.

They revealed that a group of Libyan pilots training in Britain had offered to form suicide squads to attack US bases …

Witherow was working for the paper when Mahmood resigned in 1989 shortly before he was to be sacked.

But he would have known there were problems with some of Mahmood’s stories long before then.

In March 1986 Mahmood posed as an Arab and tried to buy £45,000 worth of falcons from Jemima Parry-Jones of the Gloucestershire Falconry Centre with a view to illegally exporting them.

RUPERT MURDOCH THE EX-AUSTRALIAN tycoon has always had a soft spot for Mazher Mahmood and made sure he had a temporary berth on the Sunday Times.  Photo: PA  Hertfordshire.

RUPERT MURDOCH
THE AUSTRALIAN tycoon has always had a soft spot for Mazher Mahmood and made sure he had a temporary berth on the Sunday Times after the closure of the News of the World.
Photo: PA 

In the article, Mahmood said that, before the deal went ahead:

“Parry Jones changed her mind and called in customs officers.”

In April the paper was forced to carry a letter from an indignant Parry-Jones.

She made it clear that she had told Mahmood that a licence was needed to take the birds out of the country — and offered to help obtain one.

“When it became apparent to me that the man posing as an Arab purchaser — your journalist — was seriously interested in purchasing birds which he might export illegally, I notified the Department of the Environment, Wildlife Division, and made arrangements for the Customs and Excise to be present at the second meeting to apprehend the man.”

“The suggestion that I only called in the authorities because I was aware that the man was a Sunday Times reporter is untrue.”

“It was only when the man made a second appointment that I had worthwhile information to give to the authorities.”

In 1988 the paper had to issue corrections to other stories Mahmood had written.

One concerned an article about a Birmingham travel agent accused of money-laundering — the photograph illustrating the piece was of an entirely innocent man.

In another article Mahmood claimed that Pakistan wanted Britain to return former brigadier Usman Khalid because he was suspected of involvement in the 1985 air crash that killed the country’s President, General Zia.

The correction made it clear Pakistan had asked for no such thing — and the paper accepted Usman Khalid’s assurance that he was not involved in the crash.

The most serious correction followed a story alleging that the head of a fee-paying school near Shrewsbury was cruel to pupils.

The piece said police were investigating and quoted teachers and pupils who supported the allegations against Edward Pease-Watkin of Packwood Haugh School.

The piece provoked a storm of protest — and generated a significant correction the following Sunday.

The chairman of the governors said the piece “outraged governors, parents and ex-parents, staff, pupils and ex-pupils, the school doctor and the vicar”.

He said the police investigation was complete — and had found no evidence to support the allegations which had been made by a sacked teacher.

He added:

“The staff, at an informal gathering on May 8 [the day the article appeared] expressed unanimous support for the headmaster and school.”

A letter from one of the teachers quoted in the article insisted he talked to Mahmood “to discourage him from pursuing allegations which were malicious.”

Another letter, signed by 58 pupils said “your article was an injustice.”

“Mr Pease-Watkin has all that is good in a headmaster, providing strong leadership and fairness in academic activities, and is caring and courteous at all times.”

“He has a fantastic track record of achievement … and is a source of great inspiration to us all.”

We also wrote to John Witherow asking him to comment on these stories.

He didn’t reply …

♦♦♦

MAZHER MAHMOOD is not the first “rogue journalist” John Witherow employed during the eighteen years he spent editing the Sunday Times.

In July 2003 the respected investigative journalist David Connett was offered a seniorpost on the celebrated Insight team.

But not as a conventional member of staff with a contract.

Instead, he was to be a highly-paid freelance who would carry out the “dark arts” of news-gathering for the team.

As former Insight reporter Edin Hamzic recorded in an email:

” … it was better for the team to keep him off the books in case we got rumbled.”

He added that the arrangement meant “we could have a get-out clause in case we got caught.”

Connett was not listed on the paper’s internal phone directory and did not have a company email address.

The reporter said that Insight editor Dean Nelson, a Christian, had misgivings about using the “dark arts”:

“He didn’t want to get involved in all the black arts and deal in stolen property etc.”

Connett added:

PECKING ORDER  THE FLOOR plan at Murdoch's new British newspaper HQ shows which paper has the best view ... Photo: Rebecca Television

PECKING ORDER
THE FLOOR plan at Murdoch’s new British newspaper HQ shows which paper has the best view … the Sun is top of the pile.
Photo: Rebecca Television

“The downside of this arrangement was that if anything ever went wrong the brown smelly stuff would arrive in my lap.”

The arrangement lasted until July 2005 when editor John Witherow decided to axe the Insight department as a separate department.

When the paper treated Connett as a freelance with few employment rights, he went to an employment tribunal claiming unfair dismissal.

In April 2006, the tribunal ruled that Connett was more than just a casual employee — and the Sunday Times agreed to pay him £30,000.

Even though all of this material was on the public record — and most of it was also included in Nick Davies’ 2008 book Flat Earth News — none of it was explored by the Leveson Inquiry …

No details have ever been provided either by Connett or the Sunday Times as to exactly what “dark arts” he used — or if any of them were illegal.

Neither Connett or Nelson were asked to give evidence before Lord Leveson.

Nor, as far as Press Gang can tell, has any reporter on the Sunday Times ever been questioned by the various police investigations into illegal news-gathering …

♦♦♦

BY THE time Panorama broadcast it’s twice-delayed programme on Mazher Mahmood, John Witherow had achieved his ambition.

He was editor of The Times, rewarded by Rupert Murdoch for decades of loyal service.

And he’s still at it.

The Times was silent during the dramatic run-up to the programme when lawyers acting for Mahmood failed to secure an injunction preventing recent images of the “Fake Sheik” being shown.

It was silent when the Attorney General asked the BBC to delay the programme because Mahmood might face charges of perjury and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. 

Nor did the paper — which regards itself as the UK’s paper of record — carry a full report on the programme itself.

POLICE CHIEF  MET COMMISSIONER Bernard Hogan-Howe force has had more than three months to arrest Mazher Mahmood on suspicion  of committing perjury ...  Photo: PA Commissioner,  after The President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, accompanied by his wife Sabina Higgins arrive at London Heathrow Airport.  During the visit they will stay at Windsor Castle.

POLICE CHIEF
MET COMMISSIONER Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe. More than three months after a judge accused Mazher Mahmood of lying in the Tulisa Contostavlos cocaine case, the Met has still to arrest the reporter on suspicion of committing perjury. Compare that to the 12 days it took West Midlands police to arrest the two medics in the FGM case after Mahmood presented them with his dodgy evidence…  The Met also ignored a letter from Press Gang in 2012 asking for Mahmood to be investigated for perjury in other criminal cases.
Photo: PA 

Instead it buried two sentences in another story about BBC proposals to hive Panorama off to the independent sector.

Those two sentences read in full:

“In a Panorama episode last night, postponed from Monday, Steve Grayson, a former associate of Mazher Mahmood, an investigative reporter known as the “Fake Sheikh” [sic — Mahmood always called himself the “Fake Sheik”], alleged that some of Mr Mahmood’s stories were obtained by entrapment.”

“Mr Mahmood, who has worked for the News of the World, The Sun and The Sunday Times, has denied acting improperly and described allegations in the programme as ‘unsustainable and wrong’.”

♦♦♦

LAST NIGHT Press Gang finally clarified the exact nature of the police investigation into Mazher Mahmood.

In a statement the Met told us its inquiry into Mahmood — known as Operation Silverhawk — was concerned only with the Tulisa Contostavlos trial.

The investigation, by the Special Enquiry Team of the Specialist Crime and Operations division, is not looking at any other cases:

” … at this stage the MPS [Metropolitan Police Service] has not been asked to investigate any further matters.”

Asked if Mahmood had been questioned, the spokesperson added:

“We do not discuss the identity of people interviewed under caution.”

Yesterday the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) confirmed that three planned criminal trials with Mahmood as a key witness had been abandoned.

The CPS also identified a further historical 25 cases where criminal convictions secured as a result of evidence provided by Mahmood were open to challenge.

However, the Met statement makes it clear that Mahmood’s role is not being investigated in any of these cases.

In November 2012 we wrote to the Met to ask them to investigate our allegation of serial perjury by Mahmood in many of the criminal cases he gave evidence in.

The Met acknowledged the letter but never responded.

The Press Gang investigation into Mazher Mahmood continues …

♦♦♦
Published: 22 November 2014
© Press Gang (part of Re
becca Television)
♦♦♦

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♦♦♦

COMING UP
“A PRETTY DESPICABLE MAN”
PART TWO: ASSAULT ON THE BANK OF ENGLAND

THE “DARK ARTS” were practised on an industrial scale at the Daily Mirror when Piers Morgan was editor. An extraordinary example took place in 1998 when the paper ordered private eyes to break into the mortgage accounts of every member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee. A Pretty Despicable Man continues with a revealing analysis of the paper’s cynical bank jobs…

CORRECTIONS  Please let us know if there are any mistakes in this article — they’ll be corrected as soon as possible.

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