PIERS MORGAN'S MIRROR — MILLIONS SPENT ON THE "DARK ARTS"
IN 2005 Piers Morgan published his best-selling memoirs, The Insider.
It's an account of his years as editor of the News of the World (1994-1995) and Daily Mirror (1995-2004).
There's not a word about the "dark arts" practiced at either paper.
But police were already investigating.
In the late 1990s anti-corruption detectives at Scotland Yard launched Operation Two Bridges against a private detective agency supplying information to Morgan's Mirror.
The agency was Southern Investigations, run by Jonathan Rees.
Operation Two Bridges was collecting information about Rees' attempts to corrupt serving police officers — and about his alleged involvement in the 1987 murder of his partner Daniel Morgan.
Invoices seized from Southern Investigations during the operation show the firm was a key element in Piers Morgan's editorial strategy.
PIERS MORGAN published his memoirs — The Insider — in 2005 but there's no mention of the "dark arts" used at the Daily Mirror ...
In August 2011 BBC economics editor Robert Peston obtained a set of these invoices.
He revealed that, between October 1997 and September 1999, the Mirror group used Jonathan Rees on 230 occasions.
Peston calculated that the Daily and Sunday Mirror paid Rees just under £67,000.
Many of these were simple "fishing expeditions" — finding out about famous people's financial affairs.
Often the information was not newsworthy — and nothing appeared in the Daily Mirror.
I've also obtained a set of these invoices.
Here are some of the entries that could have gone into Piers Morgan's diaries — if he'd decided to tell the truth about what the Daily Mirror was really up to ...
20 May 1998
Senior Mirror journalist Gary Jones ordered "confidential enquiries" on “Emma Noble”, then girlfriend of former Prime Minister John Major's son. No private information appeared in the paper. Cost: £282.
13 July 1998
In another fishing expedition, Gary Jones asked Jonathan Rees to obtain “bankers details” on No 10 advisor Roger Liddle and lobbyist Derek Draper. The two men were suspected of selling access to Labour ministers. The cost — £662.47.
21 Sept 1998
Arthur Scargill's wife, Dr Margaret Scargill, was the target. Gary Jones spent £403.37 on “bankers details”. Nothing appeared in the paper.
6 Oct 1998
The paper paid Jonathan Rees £677.97 to dig out personal information on Will Carling. The former England rugby international was in the news because he'd left his wife. Gary Jones ordered a search for “Financial / Company Information” which was extracted from “RBS, Abbey National”. The bill was £677.97.
This time personal information was published.
In a long piece written by Gary Jones, Colin Price and Oonagh Blackman on October 7, two quotes stand out. One says: “Last month Carling took £5,000 in salary from the business to pay his mortgage.” One of his companies — Inspirational Horizons — "has just £1,500 in its account". This could have come from his RBS bank account.
The second states: “The star, who has a £400,000 mortgage on the five bedroom property, needs to find more than £2,800 a month in repayments.” Did this come from his Abbey National mortgage?
Will Carling told me he didn't want to comment.
19 Oct 1998
Jonathan Rees sent Gary Jones two bills relating to an investigation of the business affairs of TV presenter Anthea Turner's then boyfriend Grant Bovey. Turner had left her husband the previous January and moved in with Bovey. The first invoice, for £500, was for "confidential enquiries" about Bovey and his wife. The second — "undertaking detailed financial searches" into Bovey — was worth £569. The total was £1,069.
A double page spread had appeared on Bovey's affairs four days earlier. The piece — written by Gary Jones, Matthew Wright and Oonagh Blackman— stated Bovey's bankers were "calling for crisis talks to discuss his personal problems." "They have told him to stop issuing cheques after running up an overdraft of nearly £16,000." This information could have been blagged from Bovey's bank.
THE FORMER Labour minister was another victim of the Daily Mirror. He resigned as Trade Secretary in December 1998 after it was revealed he'd failed to declare a £378,000 personal loan from fellow minister Geoffrey Robinson. The day before his resignation the Mirror's Gary Jones asked Jonathan Rees to blag details of the Trade Minister's bank and mortgage accounts. The Mirror revealed Mandelson had £50,000 in a Coutts account — and that his £150,000 mortgage with the Britannia Building Society cost £1,000 a month. According to the BBC's Robert Peston, the Mirror's Mandelson operation cost the Mirror £1,116.
4 Jan 1999
Gary Jones paid Jonathan Rees £499.37 to find information about Alistair Campbell, Prime Minister Tony Blair's press secretary. No personal financial details appeared in the Mirror. The cost was £499.37.
15 Mar 1999
The Mirror pays £264.37 for information about Mick Jagger — no confidential material appeared in the paper.
ALL OF these individuals have grounds for suing the Daily Mirror.
Their chances of success have been strengthened by the verdict in the eight "sample" cases heard by Mr Justice Mann in May.
The judge ruled that, even for those whose confidential details were never published in the newspaper, damages can be awarded.
His judgment also reveals the extraordinary scale of illegal newsgathering — the "dark arts" — at the Mirror and its stablemates.
Up to this judgment, for example, I'd only been aware of two private eyes who were used by the papers.
These were Jonathan Rees of Southern Investigations in the years up to 1999 and Steve Whittamore in the early 2000s.
The BBC revealed that the Daily and Sunday Mirror spent £67,000 with Southern Investigations between 1997 and 1999.
An analysis by ITV News showed that the Daily Mirror paid Steve Whittamore at least £92,000 up until his arrest in March 2003.
That makes a total of £159,000.
But the Mann verdict reveals this was just the tip of the iceberg.
Judge Mann noted that the Mirror papers:
"admitted paying over £2.25 million (in over 13,000 invoices) to certain named private eyes in the years from 2000 to 2007."
"The total covers a lot of agents, and some of their work may have been legitimate."
But the judge added that the Mirror's legal team:
"has admitted that 'an unquantifiable but substantial' number of the inquiries made of the agents is likely to have been to obtain private information that could not be obtained lawfully."
In other words, illegal news-gathering — including but not limited to phone hacking — was taking place on a colossal scale at the group.