Master of the 'Dark Arts' Breaks Silence About Rebekah Brooks
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The admission has been made by Brooks’ former right-hand-man Greg Miskiw, who was in charge of the paper’s notorious ‘dark arts’ operation.
According to Miskiw, Brooks was informed specifically about the illegal interceptions in late January 2002,
It is the first time a senior News International colleague has come forward with testimony against Brooks, who was cleared of all phone hacking charges at the Old Bailey last year.
The alleged conversation took place in the News of the World newsroom, then at the company’s headquarters in Wapping, East London.
Whilst checking out the source of a controversial tip-off, the former Assistant Editor (News and Investigations) says that he told Rebekah Brooks that he had authorised several illegal techniques to investigate the story.
The intrusions also included ‘blagging’ confidential records and ‘turning round’ mobile phone numbers, which is when a private detective criminally ‘blags' a phone network to give them the address attached to the account.
The 65-year-old journalist, from Leeds, said: ‘I told her we "turned round" the source’s telephone number, listened to his voice mails, got his address, hacked his computer, got his employment records…’ However, Miskiw is not sure whether Brooks understood the significance of what he was saying because she was very angry at the time.
Byline wrote to Brooks for her comment on the allegation that Miskiw told her that voicemail and emails had been accessed to check the veracity of the News of the World story. Shortly before publication Byline received a short letter from lawyers representing Brooks which stated that the allegations were "entirely untrue". They highlighted that the question of her knowledge of voicemail interception had been the subject of extensive criminal proceedings. The lawyers stated that the allegations were "completely uncorroborated" and "from a single source with a "potential animus" against her. We put these points to Miskiw who denies any such animus and stands by his account. He responded, “I don’t have any bad blood towards Rebekah. I never have. She brought me back from New York. She promoted me. Why should I have any bad blood towards her?”
The alleged conversation took place at around 9pm on Saturday January 26th 2002 near a quiet corner of the newsroom.
Mulcaire Remembers Miskiw's Threat to Resign
If Brooks heard and understood Miskiw, his claims bring into question the evidence given at her high-profile trial last year.
On 24th June 2014, Brooks was found not guilty of all charges relating to intercepting voice messages, paying public officials, and perverting of the course of justice following an eight month trial.
The keystone of her defence was that she had no knowledge of phone hacking at the News of the World whilst she was editor between 2000 and 2003.
The former Sunday magazine secretary was acquitted by a unanimous verdict after a three year police investigation. Miskiw pleaded guilty during the same trial.
Miskiw’s account is partly corroborated by the News of the World’s top private detective Glenn Mulcaire, who carried out the phone and email interceptions under Miskiw’s supervision.
Mulcaire, 45, told Byline: ‘Greg told me at the time that he had been questioned by the Editor about why he was not on top of this story.
‘Greg told me that he’d threatened to resign.
‘He said that he fully-backed all of the information that I had provided for him on that story. He put his neck on the line.
‘I was happy that he fully backed what I said.
‘Of course, it turned out to be right.
‘So Greg didn't resign.’
In an exclusive story with Byline, Miskiw states that he recalled telling Brooks about phone hacking in connection with a story about the murder of toddler James Bulger.
Tracking Thompson and Venables
The two-year-old boy was killed by Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, both ten, in February 1993.
Nearly a decade later, the tragedy was still front page news after the controversial release of the killers back into the community under false identities.
Page 5, News of the World, 24th June 2001
Miskiw’s first-hand account, to be published exclusively on Byline, starts during the week beginning Tuesday 22nd January 2002.
The working week at the News of the World began on a Tuesday as traditionally Sunday newspaper reporters take Sunday and Monday off.
Miskiw received a tip-off from an anonymous caller claiming that Jon Venables, by then 18- years-old, had applied to join the Parachute Regiment.
Miskiw recalled: ‘It was not often I answered the news desk phone, other than the hot line.
‘On this occasion, I did.
‘The voice at the other end spoke in a clipped military tone.
‘ “I've got a story you will be interested in,” he said.
‘The story unfolded.
‘He worked in an Army recruitment office and he said one of the killers of little Jamie Bulger, who was snatched by two boys from a shopping mall on Merseyside, had applied to join the Paras and had been accepted.
‘ “Staggering!” I thought.
‘A cruel killer training to be a professional killer, in one of the world’s most prestigious Regiments. A very good story.’
Miskiw, a very experienced Fleet Street hand, began the delicate process of trying to ease the evidence out of the source.
The former Mirror hack recalled: ‘I fired a barrage of questions at him.
‘ “Is there any paperwork, application forms, copies of letters of acceptance?
‘ “How could the Ministry of Defence not know his background?
‘ “Perhaps it was a deal with the Home Office and the MoD?”
‘My questions bounced off him.
‘So, the last resort, I offered money for the exclusive.
‘ “I want £5,000,” he said.
‘ “Cheap!” I thought and snapped his hand off, perhaps too quickly.
‘He refused to give his mobile number, his name, or where he was based.
‘Afraid to put his head above the parapet.
‘Often the case, when a source’s identification could lead to a sacking and dishonourable discharge, even prison.’
Miskiw was concerned that the tipster did not want to give his mobile number over the phone.
Pressure to get a Scoop
A common problem with anonymous ‘ring ins’ - if the source got cold feet overnight then Miskiw would lose contact and the trail would go cold.
Miskiw continued: ‘He offered to call me back the next day. I had no choice and reluctantly agreed.
‘If this story is true, it’s the splash in Sunday's News of the World.
‘He called back on the dot and put more flesh on the bones of the story, but still no documents or contact numbers.
‘Several more calls, more meat, and finally a contact number for a mobile, but still no documentation.’
Miskiw had not yet informed ‘Screws’ editor Rebekah Brooks and her deputy Andy Coulson, both now 47, about the tip-off because he had not stood the story up - even though they kept badgering him to bring in a big exclusive for that week’s paper.
As the week progressed, and deadline loomed, Brooks began turning up the heat on Miskiw to come up with a good story.
Thursday is a pivotal day in the Sunday news cycle, the time when key stories are ‘listed’ in editorial conferences and probing begins in earnest.
Miskiw continued: ‘The week was going badly, scheduled stories were falling down around my ears, and I could feel Rebekah and deputy editor Andy Coulson's frustration rising.
‘The pressure was on.
‘Thursday evening and still no sign of a front page splash.
‘Constant one word emails from Coulson: ‘“Anything?”’
Against his better judgement, and not having an alternative story to offer up to his bosses, Miskiw decided to tell the editors about his Bulger tip.
On Thursday January 24th 2002 Miskiw informed the pair, a politically risky tactic as he had yet to secure evidence, photographs and interviews.
Miskiw explained: ‘Finally, I cracked.
‘Anything to get them off my back.
‘I mentioned the Bulger story. There was a collective sigh of relief.
‘The pressure was still on. I had to prove the story was true.’
Letting the Dogs Loose
On the same day, Miskiw claims that he then instructed his secret weapon Glenn Mulcaire to target the army tipster with his armoury of intelligence techniques, some of which were highly illegal.
Greg added: ‘Time to let the dogs loose.
‘I tasked pack leader Glenn Mulcaire to "turn the source inside out."
‘I wanted to know his inside leg measurement.’
Glenn Mulcaire was a £120,000-a-year private detective who had sub-contracted exclusively for the News of the World since 1999.
The former AFC Wimbledon midfielder, dubbed Trigger, developed a unique live-streaming intelligence system.
The ‘matrix’ network, run from a secretive industrial unit in West London, was at times more powerful and faster than the police’s and security service’s spy systems.
The process was known as ‘stacking, hacking, and tracking.’
Though highly illegal, Mulcaire’s procedures involved identity theft similar to that used by professional fraudsters, and intensive blagging involving neuro-linguistic processing.
Target’s phone messages and emails were hacked, phone bills were ‘pulled’ and their mobile phone traffic over previous months was analysed for unusual patterns.
Mulcaire, from Sheen, West London,said: ‘Greg called me - the story was about a sergeant in the Army trying to sell a story for thousands of pounds in regards to one of the killers joining the army.’
The expert tracing agent was able to find the exact location and identity of the army tipster starting with just a mobile number - within one hour.
Miskiw added: ‘Within an hour he (Glenn) “turned round" his mobile number and we had an address.’
This type of investigation was known as an ‘ET Special Project’ by Mulcaire - ET referred to ‘egg timer’ meaning that the profiling had to be done against the clock faster than usual.
Redacted Glenn Mulcaire notes from Operation Weeting
Mulcaire remembered: ‘Even before the sergeant had put the phone down to Greg, I had tracked down the address.’
News reporter Louise Oswald - who made her name exposing rugby player Lawrence Dallaglio three years earlier - was sent to do the door knock.
Miskiw continued: ‘Scanning the reporters in the office, my eyes fell on Louise Oswald, a beautiful blonde bombshell from Down Under who would melt the heart of a squaddie.
‘Perfect for the job.
‘I brief her and gave her the address on the South Coast.’
'Stacking, Hacking, and Tracking'
Overnight, Mulcaire carried out cell location analysis, mobile call triangulation - known as ‘pinging’ - and analysed the soldier’s internet account and phone bills.
The initial intelligence that he dug up did not bode well for the target's credibility, suggesting that the army source was a liar.
Greg said: ‘By Friday morning, Mulcaire had access to the sources' emails and social accounts.
‘He was clearly in, or was in, the Army.
‘He subscribed to various dating agencies and was sweet-talking several girls, and his chat-up line was impressive.
‘He was an army sergeant fighting the Taliban in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Waxing lyrical about the hardships, the heat, the roadside bombs, and dodging snipers’ AK47 bullets.
‘The problem was he was writing about his daring deeds from the comfort of his lounge on the South Coast.
‘I ordered Louise over the top to confront him.’
Mulcaire remembers that the squaddie was ‘extremely shocked and surprised at how quick he had been tracked down as he had taken security precautions.’
He added: ‘Greg said that the squaddie told the reporter that he’d taken every possible security measure and asked ‘how the fuck did you find me?’
‘He was very well versed in security measures because he was in the army - we weren’t up against some sort of amateur.
‘One of his utilities was on direct debit, which gave me the sort code and the bank account number.
‘This enabled me to go straight to the banks as one of my many identities.
‘Once through, the customer’s full bank details - including credit card payments, cash withdrawal and money movement - was soon reported.’
Mulcaire used a deep-probing intelligence methodology known as MICE - which stands for Money, Ideology, Communication/Compromise and Ego.
The ‘vices’ , he says, that are often the main weaknesses in a target’s life.
Miskiw added: ‘She (Louise Oswald) reported in an hour later.
‘The house was full of Para memorabilia, berets with the distinctive Para’s badge,
various pennants pinned to the wall, photographs of dusty squaddies in full combat gear.
‘With the clock ticking to deadline, I got him on the phone.
"Look, I will give you £10,000 if you can produce proof.
‘On the other hand, I could ring the police and tell them you are trying to obtain money by deception.”
“Now tell me, is the story true?"
‘Silence for 10 seconds……….
"It's not true."
‘I slammed the phone down.’
The Mail on Sunday Splash
As far as the News of the World was concerned the story, which had been exposed as being false, was now dead.
But it wasn’t long before a rival newspaper got wind of the tip.
On Saturday January 26th 2002, a couple of hours after the first editions of the News of the World had gone ‘off stone’, a bombshell dropped at Fortress Wapping.
Greg continued: ‘Saturday night and the first editions of our competitors are coming in.
‘The People, no problems.........The Sunday
Mirror, no problems..........Sunday Express, never any problem, Mail on Sunday, big problem.
Front page of Mail on Sunday, 26th January 2002
‘All across the front page "BULGER KILLER TO JOIN PARAS" the headline screamed. My heart sank.’
The actual headline was ‘Bulger killer to join the Army,’ a frontage exclusive IAN GALLAGHER, a well-respected investigative journalist at the Mail on Sunday.
The first four paragraphs of the story read:
‘One of the killers of James Bulger is joining the Army - and the Ministry of Defence has secretly waived the rules to let him apply.
‘The Mail on Sunday has learned that, using his new identity, Jon Venables, 18, has applied to join a fighting regiment and is expected to complete his formal entrance exams.
‘Ministry of Defence sources confirmed last night that officials have been persuaded by the Home Office to ignore regulations which prevent convicted killers from joining the Armed Forces.
‘The secret high-level move has infuriated James's family. Venables and Robert Thompson abducted their two-year-old son from a shopping precinct in February 1993, tortured him, then battered him to death on a railway line.’
Page 2 of Mail on Sunday, 26th January 2002
The fact that a rival newspaper had published a story that the News of the World had rejected risked permanently damaging Miskiw’s career at the world’s toughest newspaper.
But only if the story proved to be true.
Greg Miskiw said: “Within seconds, the familiar figure of Rebekah came hurtling out of her office with a newspaper in her hand.
‘Her characteristic dash, bum out, chest out, she looked like a sprinter breaking the tape.
‘We met half way.
‘If you imagine the route from the editor's office to the the news desk was an L shape, we met at the apex of the ‘L.’
‘ "What the ---- is going on?" she spat.
Explaining to Brooks
‘We stood there for a minute or two while I told her that I knew the story was untrue.
‘And in all seriousness, I said I would resign if it was proved to be true.
‘The exchange was along the lines of, “well why did they use it?”
"I don't know."
"Doesn't look good, Greg."
"I'm telling you the story is not true," I said. ‘"How do you know?" she replied.
‘I took a deep breath.
‘ "If it's true, I'll resign."
‘"Come on, how do you know it's not true?" she insisted.
‘I was angry that she didn't seem to accept my assurance.
‘Normally, I would just shrug my shoulders and back off - but in this instance I had put my job on the line.
‘By this time, she had turned her back on me and was racing towards her office with me running a close second.
‘I had to convince her I was right.
‘So, as she walked away, I told her how I knew it was a fabrication.
‘I told her we "turned round" the sources telephone number, listened to his voice mails, got his address, hacked his computer, got his employment records and finally confronted him and he admitted the story was untrue.
“I was following her back towards her office, a few strides behind her.
‘ "We ‘cracked/hacked’ - I can't remember which word I used - his computer and can prove he's a fantasist.”’
‘Through her fury, I am not sure my words registered, or that she had even heard them, or believed me.
‘By then, she was in her office and I retreated.
‘The whole episode took three to four minutes.’If email or other computer hacking took place it could amount to a more serious criminal offence than voicemail hacking.
Miskiw continued: ‘Believe me, considering the tension, I was not aware of anybody being within hearing distance.
‘That corner is dead.
‘With the news desk behind you, the offices running along the right hand side were empty. ‘On that corner, on the left, there were mail boxes for reporters.
‘Behind me were empty reporters’ desks.
‘On Saturday nights, we ran a skeleton staff made-up mainly of freelancers who congregated around the news desk, which was 25 feet away.
‘I do not have a clue if anybody overheard the conversation, but I doubt it very much.
‘I turned towards the news desk and guessed I wouldn't be getting a glass of champagne that evening.’
Brooks let Miskiw stew. He had offered to resign and worryingly she had not refused the offer.
If the ‘Bulger army ' story proved to be true then Greg would have no option but go through with it as Brooks would no longer have faith in his news judgement.
Brooks, from Churchill, near Chipping Norton in the Cotswolds, went away to check the story with a high-level defence contact.
He remembered: ‘An hour later she called me into her office.
‘Like a schoolboy waiting to be reprimanded by the headmistress, I stood in front of her desk.
"I rang one of my contacts at the MoD and he said he couldn't comment on individual cases. I put the thumb screws on and he finally admitted the story was a load of bull," she said.
‘I suspect she went right to the top......the Minister.
‘Typical Rebekah, the consummate net worker, magnetic, charming, utterly ruthless, vain and egocentric.
‘She focused on high profile targets like a Stinger missile.’
Meanwhile, Glenn Mulcaire was left in the dark about the drama and woke up the next day expecting not to read a story about the Bulger killers.
Glenn said: ‘I remember going to the garage the next morning and buying a copy of the Mail on Sunday.
‘I was incandescent with rage because the story that I had knocked down had suddenly popped up in another newspaper.
‘I had proved that the sergeant was a liar.
‘It was as though my information had been disqualified.
‘My initial reaction was that I thought I had been betrayed by someone at the News of the World and that the story had been back-doored - leaked to the MOS in a stitch-up.
‘I spoke to Greg: “How the fuck did that happen?”
‘Greg said: “No! No! That’s not the case.
‘He said that the story in the MOS had been run under false pretences.
‘That’s when he told me that he had threatened to resign.’
Both Mulcaire and Miskiw pleaded guilty to intercepting phone messages at the hacking trial in 2013/14.
Miskiw, who admitted to the crimes because of the ‘overwhelming evidence', was sentenced to six months in prison July 2014.
He did not make a statement to the police and has never spoken publicly about phone hacking before.
Mulcaire was given a suspended sentence in July 2014.
Seven years earlier he was jailed for six months after being found guilty of hacking the phones of royal aides.
Andy Coulson, from Preston, Kent, lost his job as the Prime Minister’s spokesman before going to jail also.
Brooks was cleared of all charges, awarded a £16 million pay-off and then given her old job back earlier this month.
UPDATE: Response from the Labour Party
Chi Onwurah MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy, said:
“These allegations raise serious questions about what Ms Brooks knew at the time. Barely a few weeks after the announcement of her ill-judged return to News UK, it seems like her credibility has been undermined further.”
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