Miskiw on Coulson and Wallis at News of the World: Bribes, Bollockings and Bogus Stories
By Greg Miskiw
News of the World executives were a pack of wolves relentless in pursuit of their prey.
Little distinction was drawn between chasing a story and hounding a colleague who had displeased the boss.
Pack leader editor Andy Coulson had his chief attack dog, Deputy Editor Neil Wallis.
Lurking just behind him was the sinister, pinstripe suited Stuart Kuttner, the skeletal managing editor who held firm the newspaper's purse strings in his boney fingers.
Andy had the look of a sixth former who had just started shaving, a smooth complexion and boyish good looks. But he could be cold and would not hesitate slipping the stiletto between your ribs.
I got the email requesting me to pop into his office.
He explained it was a private matter involving his family. His mother-in-law, who lived in The West Country, was having problems with a troublesome neighbour.
The police had been called and there was an arrest. An investigation was launched but nothing had come of it as yet. Could I use my contacts to find out the background of the suspect?
I made it clear my contact, who was not super hacker Glenn Mulcaire, would need to be paid. My source was a member of the National Crime Squad, now renamed The National Crime Agency.
The call went in, and within two days, my contact came back with details of the troublesome neighbour’s previous convictions, his psychiatric report which indicated he had mental problems. It indicated he had a history of harassing villagers.
Coulson was delighted and happily signed off the £500 for the information. He had his weapon!
Matt Driscoll was for 12 years a sports’ reporter on the News of the World. A solid chap who occasionally came up with a Big One.
Tottenham fanatic Coulson had a tip that Arsenal's new away strip for the 2005-06 season would be claret.
Sports Editor Mike Dunn tasked Matt to stand the story up, pointing out it was "an editor's special". In the great scheme of things, it was hardly a world scoop.
Matt put in the calls and denials came thick and fast, so the story was killed.
A couple of months later, The Sun carried the story. It was like a claret rag to a bull when Coulson saw it. Matt was asked for an explanation. He had non.
Coulson emailed Deputy Editor Neil Wallis: "Get him (Driscoll) out as quickly and cheaply as possible."
Dinky Wallis, 5ft 5inches of bile, wallowed in his Fleet Street nickname, "The Wolfman".
It may have had something to do with his beard.
His journalistic and man management guru was loud-mouthed, ex-Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie, who regularly publicly screamed abuse at reporters and executives alike. The four-letter words ricocheted around the newsroom like bullets. The best advice was 'duck.
Wallis was cruel. He would fire volley after volley of abuse, then poke the body of his victim with a stick to make sure he was dead.
And so it was with Matt Driscoll. Claret would flow, only not of the wine variety.
Senior managers made his life a misery, questioning the accuracy of his stories.
He suffered stress, anxiety and was rushed to hospital with a suspected heart attack.
On his release, his GP signed him off work but during the following three months he was phone, texted sometimes three times-a-day and sent registered letters demanding his return to work.
He was ordered to see a company doctor. His company car was taken from him, his mobile phone cut-off and his salary cut twice.
An industrial tribunal found in his favour, concluding there was a consistent pattern of bullying behaviour and that it was orchestrated by Coulson.
Driscoll was awarded a staggering £800,000 in compensation.
Wallis was the visible face of the editor, Coulson, who spent all his time in his office.
One publisher, who was trying to sell the rights of a book to the News of the World, recalled: "Mid sentence, Neil's phone rang.
"Wallis let loose with a screaming barrage of four letter words for several minutes down the phone.
"I was embarrassed because it was a reporter I knew and liked.
‘Eventually Wallis put the phone down and carried on with our conversation as if nothing had happened."
One Saturday morning, he swept into the office brandishing The Sun. He waved it in my face and launched into a tirade witnessed by all the reporters.
"Why the ---- did The Sun get this interview and we couldn't." (I don't remember what story).
"Get that ------- reporter to do me a ------- memo. I'll have his -------- on the butchers block,” he added.
"Neil," I said, "the Features Department was dealing with this story."
He stared at me for a moment, turned on his heel, strode down to the Features Desk and repeated his obscene performance.
My nickname for Wallis was "can we say,” spoken in a heavy Mancunian accent.
Almost daily, he would stride up to the news desk waving a piece of copy and pointing to a crucial paragraph and declare, "can we say" this-or-that to extra spin the story.
My answer was always: "We've pushed it as far as we can go Neil without changing the meaning."
Wallis and I go back a long way. In the mid 80s, I came across the reporter whose byline on The Daily Star was Neill Wallis, The Greatest Reporter in the World.
We were covering a sensational trial at Maidstone Crown Court involving a conman called Derry Mainwaring Knight.
He had convinced John Baker, vicar of the sleepy Sussex village of Newick, that he was possessed by the devil.
The paunchy, balding satanist told the gullible cleric his grandmother had implanted two platinum plates in his skull, which meant he could be controlled and converse with evil forces.
Soon he was living in the vicarage and squeezing money out of the vicar, whose parishioners included some very wealthy Christians including the wife of Tim Sainsbury, a former Tory MP and heir to the supermarket fortune.
Another victim was Lord Hampden, who was duped into buying a powder blue Rolls Royce and a satellite phone for Mainwaring Knight.
In total, he conned £300,000, rented a posh barn conversion in the village, hired strippers, prostitutes, dancers and held champagne parties on The Thames.
The money was also used, claimed Mainwaring Knight, to buy and destroy satanic artefacts.
He convinced his donors that Tory Deputy Prime Minister Willie Whitelaw was part of the cult, as were MPs Enoch Powell and Leo Abse.
His ruse was finally uncovered and he was arrested, but by this time he had acquired a stunning blonde girlfriend Angela Murdoch, who attended court almost every day.
Clearly, she would have an amazing story to tell about her life with this fantasist who had conned all these good Christian folk.
Every day I would chat to her, took her for lunch, and a chemistry developed between us.
"Greg," she told me," if I talk to anybody it will be you." I believed her.
The trial ended and Mainwaring Knight was sentenced to seven years for obtaining money by deception.
But there was no sign of Angela. Shamefaced, I had to report back to my newsdesk that she had given me the slip. It didn't go down well.
The following day, a Saturday, I walked into the office and could see the news editor waving to me, a face like thunder.
The World's Greatest Reporter had scooped me.
Angela had given a full interview with Wallis about her life with the Satanist con artist. I was devastated and ashamed. It took me a week to get over it.
Two months later my office phone rang. "Hi, it's Angie."
"I'm back in London. Fancy a drink.”
I wanted to give her a verbal blast for betraying me but I kept my cool, suggested dinner and she agreed.
Wallis told me he had whisked Angie away immediately after the guilty verdict and did the interview.
Angie's account differed.
"I decided not to do an interview, and got a flight the day before the jury returned to stay with friends in New York. I've just got back. I swear I didn't talk to Wallis.’
I'd heard that Wallis had a reputation for spinning stories but allegations of making up interviews? I couldn't believe it.
A day later she showed me the outward flight booking document, claiming that it confirmed her version of events. Who to believe?
PART TWO OF GREG MISKIW’S STORY WILL BE PUBLISHED LATER THIS WEEK ON BYLINE.COM