PART 6: BYLINE INVESTIGATES THE SUN - Editor 'Laughed at Race Slur' Column
SUN EDITOR Tony Gallagher was laughing at early proofs of the race-slur column that cost Kelvin MacKenzie his job - despite later denying even having read it, according to newsroom sources at the tabloid.
Witnesses saw the 53-year-old Editor in jocular mood while reviewing the page containing the article, in which disgraced Mr MacKenzie compared African-heritage footballer Ross Barkley to a gorilla.
"(He) laughed at the jokes and signed it off. (But) Gallagher says he was busy that afternoon and didn’t see the proof" ~ newsroom source
Yet when faced with an internal inquest into how so offensive a piece about the Everton midfielder made it into print just a week before the anniversary of the Hillsborough football disaster, Mr Gallagher pleaded ignorance.
Now Mr Gallagher is facing scrutiny after well-placed sources at Britain's biggest-selling newspaper gave a differing account to the one he relied upon in an internal investigation led by his boss, News UK Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks, 48.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: "People on the Back Bench (key day-to-day editorial decision makers) insist that Gallagher was shown that proof. (He) laughed at the jokes and signed it off. (But) Gallagher says he was busy that afternoon and didn’t see the proof."
And today, Byline Investigations can tell how:
· GALLAGHER'S version of events has been contradicted by eye witnesses in the paper's newsroom who say he approved MacKenzie's column.
· CONTROVERSIAL Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks, herself facing fresh phone hacking allegations in the High Court, has now turned on The Sun Number One.
· BROOKS is preparing to depose the Murdoch-appointee after the General Election and install her own editor - having lost confidence over a string of editorial mis-steps.
· SHE humiliated him by ordering The Sun to run her idea for a Christmas campaign - and attacked his 'news sense' over stories about England football legend Gary Lineker.
· THE TIMELINE unfolded on the latest drama to beset Rupert Murdoch's newspaper corporation, after phone hacking and the Fake Sheik fake stories scandal.
Byline's source spoke in detail about Mr Gallagher's editorial Modus Operandi.
They said: "The pack drill is that they lay out MacKenzie’s column. Then Gallagher’s PA (Personal Assistant) comes over and gives Gallagher a proof (pre-publication version of the set-out page).
"Gallagher was on the Back Bench (pictured left) with colleagues when he was given the proof of MacKenzie's column. Proofs aren't just delivered to editor's office - but to wherever Gallagher is in the building.
"It is significant that he was with others when he got the MacKenzie proof because he was seen laughing at the jokes - there were witnesses. He would not have been so visible if he had been in his office."
The source told how Mr Gallagher edits his paper using hard-copy proofs, rather than reviewing pages on screen. The use of hard-copy proofs and a pen to mark-up changes is a system widely used at the Daily Mail and preferred by Mr Gallagher’s former mentor, Editor-in-chief of Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, and Mail Online, Paul Dacre.
The source added that it is customary for Mr Gallagher’s PA to fetch the proofs from the Production Editor and hand-deliver them to the Editor’s office, or to wherever else at News UK's Mini Shard offices he is.
"If Kelvin Mackenzie is writing about Liverpool, a week before the Hillsborough anniversary, and you’re the editor of The Sun, you should have seen that" ~ newsroom source
The source went on: "Gallagher will then go through the hard-copy proof - not only the Kelvin column, but the splash and all the significant pages and spreads. That’s how he edits it. It’s like the way Dacre edits The Daily Mail."
An aggravating factor in Mr MacKenzie's Ross Barkley column - which also alluded to people from Liverpool being drug dealers, and for which the paper later apologised - is that it came out a week before the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 football fans died and, in covering as editor of The Sun at the time in 1989, Mr MacKenzie himself defamed victims by wrongly blaming the tragedy on them and fellow Liverpool supporters.
The source said: "If Kelvin Mackenzie is writing about Liverpool, a week before the Hillsborough anniversary, and you’re the editor of The Sun, you should have seen that (the column). So even if he hadn’t seen it, he hasn’t really got a defence.
"He would have been fired immediately, if he would have admitted that he’d seen it. They could not prove that he had seen it. But what they could absolutely prove is that people on the back-bench flagged up the explosive nature of the column."
According to the source, The Sun's Managing Editor Paul Clarkson raised concerns about the line in Mr MacKenzie’s story about drug dealers. However, the 70-year-old refused to change his copy.
The source said: "The Managing Editor, who used to edit the Irish Sun, raised concerns about the drug dealing element. He didn’t raise the gorilla thing, because he didn’t know that Barkley had a black grandfather.
"Kelvin was contacted but told them 'fuck off' – he was going to keep the column as it was. Absolutely that’s what happened."
The latest revelations in our Byline Investigates The Sun series comes as James Murdoch faces a 'fit and proper persons' probe by media regulators Ofcom into the £11.7bn takeover bid of Sky by his company 21st Century Fox.
Questions began about Mr Gallagher's suitability as editor of The Sun in January last year when he decided not to run a story about the break-up of Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker from wife Dannielle Bux on the paper's front page.
Insiders say Mrs Brooks regarded the article as an obvious 'splash' for the tabloid, given Mr and Mrs Lineker's profile. She is said to have made clear her displeasure with her editor's 'news sense' over his treatment of the story.
This led to a further mis-step in October last year when Mr Gallagher ran a front page (left) demanding Mr Lineker be sacked by the BBC for defending refugee children on Twitter.
Sources say the venom in The Sun's editorial - which flatly misdescribed the content of a Tweet by Mr Lineker while referring to him as 'jug-eared' and calling for his job - and prominence of the story was a direct reaction to Mr Gallagher's earlier carpeting.
The Sun was forced to quickly roll back on its demands when it became obvious it was giving ammunition to the Stop Funding Hate campaign, which has called for leading advertisers to cease patronage of certain newspapers.
A second Sun source said: "Gallagher got roasted for sticking the love split on an inside page and then reacted by going too hard on the refugee Tweet. He may be seen as a good editor, but it started to look as if his judgement of The Sun's readership was deeply flawed. Put bluntly, his bottle was going. The whole paper could smell it."
The first source went on: "Rebekah’s lack of faith in Gallagher will do for him after the election. Clearly, they’ve got bigger fish to fry at the moment. They have got to get Theresa May back into power.
"The one thing that Gallagher is seen as trustworthy on is leaders (prominent set-piece articles expressing the opinions and mood of the paper) knowing The Sun line, just handling politics. That’s his fucking problem. He’s perfectly capable on the leaders. Making sure The Sun is Murdoch-on-message.
"But what he is utterly shit at is all the things you’re supposed to be good at as a Sun editor, which is humour, showbiz - elements of surprise."
Death of an editor: anatomy of Gallagher's demise at The Sun
January, 2016 - Gallagher 'mishandles' Lineker split story just five months after his appointment at editor.
October, 2016 - He attacks Lineker for standing up for refugee kids in a major misjudgment of the public mood.
April 13, 2017 - The Sun’s crack editorial team prepares to publish Kelvin Mackenzie’s controversial column about African-heritage England star Ross Barkley.
April 14, 2017 - MacKenzie’s column goes out to wide disapproval. Mayor of Liverpool asks Merseyside police to investigate alleged race hate offences, which both Mr MacKenzie and paper deny.
April 21, 2017 - Rebekah Brooks dismissed Kelvin MacKenzie from his £300,000-a-year column telling him: "You will never write for The Sun again."
May 9, 2017 - News UK officially announces MacKenzie's departure. The source claims the delay was so as not to prejudice the ongoing investigation by Merseyside Police.
June 8, 2017 - Britain goes to the polls for a General Election. Rebekah Brooks prepares Gallagher's P45.
July, 2017 - The Sun's new editor is in post.
October 2017 - The Sun faces a High Court grilling over allegations of phone hacking.