UPDATE: Old Animus Revisited
SUMMARY OF UPDATE: having admitted to being the source of the abortive Guido Fawkes/Daily Mail story about my mortgage in 2014, and the recent fact free hit jobs on Byline in April this year, Dennis Rice reports me to the police.
Well over a year since this blog was published, and nearly two years since I last corresponded with him in any fashion, Dennis Rice has seen fit to reactivate this issue after Byline broke various stories about the Conservative Culture Secretary John Whittingdale, which was followed by some corrigible hit jobs in the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and Guido Fawkes gossip website, directed against myself and the site in April 2016.
I have not replied to the delectable Mr Rice – nor do I intend to. But I will post each successive communication as it comes in
(You can ignore most this email which is contradicted by the information below. The key fact is Rice admits to being the source for Sunday Telegraph article.)
Dear Mr Jukes,I do hope you haven’t been injured in the self irony overload from your whining about the Sunday Telegraph not asking you to comment prior to publication.I had the same experience when you made up a story about how I was part of a Fleet Street Conspiracy of two (I had last worked on Fleet St eight in 2008 and the other person you named was Louise Mensch, an author and then MP who has at that point never written for Fleet Street)In order to do this you moved a tweet I had posted in January 2014 – in response to your attacking my family’s hacking and privacy – forward four months to pretend it had been made in response to a book which I had zero interest in, and everyone I knew had zero interest in (a situation which continues to this day).When this became clear to the UK Press Gazette they pulled the excerpt and unsurprisingly IPSO found in my favour.Even then you weren’t man enough to accept it – first you blogged your nonsense again claiming “censorship” (no its called correcting a complete inaccuracy); then inventing yet another conspiracy (yawn), namely that because Peter Wright was a member of IPSO, and had employed me six years earlier, he must have influenced the decision.What likely influenced IPSO was your ludicrous claim that you couldn’t check the original tweet – when it was on open display for a month at the time of your writing the book – then that you didn’t want to give me a Right of Reply for fear of the police being contacted. This demonstrated once again your complete lack of the most basic and rudimentary journalist training and skills.And I recall telling you at the time that the IPSO judgement would he there forever – and quite rightly so.Thus when newspapers are investigating Byline and it’s obvious links to Hacked Off (our differences in fact commenced with yout joining an attack in me by a Hacked Off director – an organisation you have never once criticised) you shouldn’t be surprised that they end up contacting me.That isn’t a conspiracy but rather a direct consequence of your own actions isn’t it?Now go back to your mundane and frankly boring existence imagining conspiracies and re tweeting yourself.Meantime rest assured that if anyone contacts me about you I will (a) provide any and all information I have on your rank hypocrisy and distortions; and (b) do it for free.Dennis Rice
Having published that – this came in a few hours later
And now come the threats of police action which I also publish
Note I have done nothing but republish Mr Rice’s emails to me. But he continues….
I did not publish the following email a few hours later however because Rice seemed to be backing down
I have published it now because the next morning it emerged…
UPDATE 17/05/16: Rice clearly did contact the police but then backed down. A PC from Thames Valley writes:Since his initial complaint, Mr Rice has failed to return my emails or provide me any evidence of an offence. As a result, his complaint has filed with no further action.Kind regards,PC 7xxxx RXX XXXXXTeam 5High Wycombe Police Station
In sum, I consider these investigatory, legal and now criminal allegations to constitute a clear case of harassment over prolonged period of time.
THE ORIGINAL POST
Despite popular demand to publish it gives me no pleasure to rehearse this sorry and rather sordid tale of tabloid trolling that arose in the background of my hacking trial coverage. I devoted a few paragraphs about this in my book, not because it had any huge public interest, but because it was indicative of the kind of abuses certain members of the British press routinely resort to.
However, two of those responsible for running interference throughout my coverage of the trial, Paul Staines of the Guido Fawkes blog, and Dennis Rice, former journo with the Mail on Sunday and News of the World, have decided to turn the molehill of a minor and ‘not egregious’ press correction into a full post on the Guido Fawkes blog. Richard Bartholomew has already dissected most of the misrepresentations in a blog I’ve cross posted here. But there are additional details about Dennis Rice, Guido Fawkes and IPSO which are of public interest.
The whole saga is a small but instructive example of the way the so called avatars of the ‘free press’ are willing to use any means at their disposal – investigatory, regulatory, and threats of civil and criminal legal action – to attempt to silence those who expose their abuses.
For the last reason more than anything I’m prepared to wade through the sticky stuff again.
Dennis Rice During the Hacking Trial
In the Press Gazette‘s serialisation of my book Beyond Contempt there was one error in an unproofed manuscript about the timing of one of Rice’s tweets in which a threat to investigate me was erroneously dated to June 2014, rather than January. The reason for this was not for lack of fact checking, but because various twitter accounts had been shut down or deleted as explained Bartholomew’s blogpost. But it was still an error and was immediately corrected by the Press Gazette: I was happy to put right in the book before it went to print.
But actually the Press Gazette piece, and my book, considerably underplays Dennis Rice’s activity throughout the period covering the hacking trial
The Origins of the Dispute
Dennis Rice came up quite often as a phone hacking victim in the hacking trial, as he and his colleague Sebastian Hamilton were key phone hacking timelines produced by the prosecution.
In January 2014 I wrote a blog on this site about the recommencement of the trial, and the various journalists who were hacked by Mulcaire. To prove it has been barely altered, here’s the first edit as stored in WordPress
At that point, Rice had informed me his family had been hacked. As my blog states, I agreed this was a “privacy violation” of the first order Since a close relative of mine was also a hacking victim (only discovered long after I began working on the hacking scandal story) I sympathised.
However, Rice quickly used my polite interaction as a launchpad:
Cyber bullying? I’d sympathised with being hacked. There is and was nothing in my blog which was in any way critical of Rice.
Stalking? Rice’s name came up in researching the timeline of the trial, and linked in was an obvious place to check employment facts. I think I spent a total of 10 seconds on his public Linked In profile.
Cyber-bullying? Stalking? Now harassment? These are allegations these days of criminal conduct. Of course, I would have just taken this as thin skinned hyperbole. Except for one fact….
A brief google search had revealed that Rice had made complaint to police about another blogger for ‘stalking’. This is a criminal allegation which Rice, only a few months previously, was promoting as a major police inquiry.
Genuinely worrying stuff. As for Rice being a witness, I had no way of knowing this. (He never appeared in the trial). But now he was about to jeopardise my court reporting from the Old Bailey.
This again was not a hollow threat. I knew that another blogger and Leveson witness had been warned by the Attorney General over a prejudicial tweet at the start of the trial. Indeed, the Tabloid Troll account which seems to have been controlled at times by Rice seemed to know about this Attorney General letter before anyone else, leading to the strong suspicions that Tabloid Troll notified the Attorney General.
After these intimidating tweets, and with a workload of over 4000 words a day live from the Old Bailey, I resolved to keep clear of Dennis Rice and never engage with him again.
Three Weeks Later; Rice Threatens to Investigate Me.
I’d forgotten about all this under the pressure of live tweeting when, almost three weeks after I’d published the blog, Rice was back online. prompted – he says – by other Fleet Street journalists.
As anyone can see, I’d explicitly condemned the hacking of journalists, and made a debatable but hardly damning point about industrial espionage.
Rice then went on to publicise his settlement for phone hacking. Fair enough. But ‘basic research’? I’d locked down the blog having been warned that further mention of him would be construed as criminal harassment.
Err. Hadn’t he previously threatened to report me to the Attorney General for addressing him? A day later Rice continued, whether encouraged by other journalists again I don’t know.
There were other muttered physical threats I didn’t take seriously….
But given Rice’s background as head of investigations for the Mail on Sunday, the investigative threat I took very seriously.
Around the same time Rice was lambasting another tweeter by digging out records from Companies House and threatening to upload them. A clear modus operandi
Within a few days, the Guido Fawkes blog (which had previously praised my coverage and continues to use my tweets regularly for news) joined in.
Fair enough. Stop retweeting me and following me then, Alex!
But it was then that Rice let slip he had begun to make good and his threat to investigate me and publicise personal details…
I have no shame about being amicably divorced 13 years ago. We’re still close and spend many family occasions together with our two children. But as far as I can see, on the whole of the internet, the only references to my ex wife are by Dennis Rice and later – in a threatening tweet in June – by Tabloid Troll.
I will not go into this further, but you can imagine the consternation of third parties who were unwillingly drawn into this.
Targeting, or threatening to target, close members of my family is unforgivable, and I defy any reasonable person to find any provocation for it in my initial blog.
Mensch and Staines Step In
Except from one attempt to placate Rice when he followed me down under to the Independent Australia blog in February (he’s since tried to anonymise himself in the comments) I never engaged with Rice from this point onward. I had another million keystrokes to input for the second half of the hacking trial
However, Rice would pop up sporadically harmless insults, but reminding me of the Attorney General threat
I would engage sometimes with the former CEO of News International, Les Hinton, who has always been friendly and complimented me on my court reporting. Rice intervened….
By this point the Tabloid Troll account was the main source of annoyance. From an archive of this now deleted accounted there are nearly 250 direct references to me from the hacking trial period.
Verdicts In: the Background Noise Intensifies
But the weekend after the verdicts are in, Louise Mensch (a Sun on Sunday columnist) piped in with the information (publicly available on my crowd funding blog) that Hacked Off contributed £500 towards my court reporting.
This was rapidly followed up by Matthew Drake. I didn’t know at the time he was another tabloid journalist.
It was then pointed out to me that Drake was a former News of the World reporter who had, according to Leveson evidence, extensively used the services of a former police officer and surveillance expert Derek Webb, known as ‘silent shadow’.
I thought it a bit unfair of being accused of working for a ‘shadowy organisation’ given this revelation. (And former News International employees contributed more than Hacked Off). It was all part of a familliar attempt to undermine the objectivity of my reporting, which was praised by defendants, their lawyers, and defence witnesses alike.
Rice piped in
Oh. I thought it was bothering to fact check, something he’d accused me of failing to do before.
When I retweeted Tabloid Troll’s threat to investigate me and my ex wife, Rice was back again mentioning the incident in January
It was then that the threat from January was MT’ed by Evan Harris.
Given the volume of tweets I was experiencing, and that Rice was back on exactly the same subject, it wasn’t ureasonable to believe it was contemporaneous. But all of this is fairly irrelevant
At the time I thought it was just another twitter spat that could be forgotten. It wasn’t until four weeks later that these threats to investigate me were made real.
It’s been well covered in my book and other blogs, so I won’t go into the spurious attempt in July by a reporter from the Daily Mail and Media Guido to prove I was lying about having a mortgage, or having missed a payment. It’s all true, I can prove it, and all beside the point. People willingly paid for the service. The fact I couldn’t spend nine months tweeting out half a million words for free is not controversial. But the fact Media Guido was involved (and it was Paul Staines running the account he later told me) will be significant.
I felt this abortive attempt to discredit me as of sufficient interest to merit a couple of paragraphs in my book. Rice’s feed had been locked down around the ‘Daily Mail weekend’ and Tabloid Troll’s account deleted. So when I researched that section of the book in July I took screenshots of the various tweets remaining, including two MT’s from Tabloid Troll and Rice dated to June.
Civil and Criminal Threats
A unproofed draft of the Beyond Contempt was sent to the Press Gazette and they edited parts of it for serialisation into three articles. One of these contained the controversial tweet which was corrected in 24 hours. I asked Rice for the tweets to make a correction. His reply was bizarre. The error was damaging to his reputation – so much so he was thinking of suing – but he was too busy to help correct it
Around then, I finally got access to Rice’s previous public tweets, and could correct for the final version of the book. Within days, Rice had increased the threat level beyond defamation. He said he was about to hand evidence over to the police about me stalking him if I ever mentioned him again’
Of course, I wrote nothing about him from this point on. I’ve only broken my silence now since Rice has been regularly tweeting about me for weeks now, sometimes RT’ed outside his private feed. He has made a public statement about me on the Guido Fawkes blog on Friday. Only fair that I have my right to reply.
IPSO leaks and Guido Fawkes
I was not party to Rice’s complaint as a non IPSO member. The Press Gazette never passed it on to me and the only inkling I had it was still ongoing was in late October, courtesy of Harry Cole and Alex Wickham from the Guido Fawkes blog.
A few days later I received the initial adjudication.
My Response to IPSO
I had issues with the draft adjudication. Though it only held up one of Rice’s complaints, and said the correction had been done corrrectly and speedily, it was completely skewed by a false narrative set out by Rice that I had somehow attacked his family in January.
Because I had no involvement in it, the adjudication completely omitted the fact Rice had continued referring back to the January events in June. It also overlooked the fact it would be impossible to ask Rice for comment after the series of allegations of criminal stalking and harassment. It also repeated the false narrative that I was somehow in Hacked Off’s pocket, when they only provided a fraction (actually less than 5%) of my funding.
But of more concern to me was that, having been assured the arbitration correspondence would be confidential, Guido Fawkes blog was clearly getting leaks from someone. The complaints officer assured me it wasn’t IPSO. I went on to provide a counter narrative, under the assurance it would remain confidential.
(Dennis Rice replied to one of these emails saying he was considering using the private information I’d provided to IPSO and publishing it for the public interest! He also deleted around a thousand tweets from his private feed when he realised I now had access to the cached versions of them).
IPSO made some minor changes, and published the “not egregious” error last week, only upholding one of Rice’s three complaints, and adding in their covering letter.
The Streisand Effect
Then came the Guido Fawkes splash.
Think about this for one minute. I’m a blogger who managed to crowd fund coverage of a big trial, and I have since become a pointman for several stories about press abuse. But what on earth is Guido Fawkes doing devoting a whole page to a minor correction about a freelance journalist ?
Of course they, like Louise Mensch, are employees of News UK. But I have many good relationships with News UK journalists and employees. They ask for corrections sometimes, and I happily oblige. They don’t engage in this dumb attempt at personally discrediting me.
Then there’s the role of real investigative reporting. As recipients of the ‘dud’ tip off about my mortgage, the Guido Fawkes bloggers must know the whole story about me being targeted substantially true. Unlike the Daily Mail reporter, who said the email about my finances was anonymised, Staines admits he knows the identity of the deluded tipster. He also explicitly refused to deny Dennis Rice was the source of leaks about IPSO.
Rather than reveal the truth, Guido Fawkes is more interested in the lame hit job.
As for Dennis Rice, he has written recently that publishing any of his previously public tweets could involve another criminal investigation (because they must have been hacked!) and again that he would respond by publishing my finances somewhere.
I have nothing to hide, but some of this information, in his own words, came from the IPSO process, so he would be in direct contravention of their confidentiality rules.
But it’s the role of IPSO in all this which is of real public interest in the future.
Concerns About IPSO
I’ve been asked how I found the IPSO process, and I must say the complaints officer I dealt with, Ben Gallop, tried his best to be impartial, transparent and fair. But he admitted my third party status put me in the odd position of having to respond to their draft adjudication, without having seen the complaint or been privy to the process.
Apart from concerns about leaks to Guido Fawkes, I am also afraid I don’t think the spin around final adjudication does IPSO any favours.
Here am I, subject to this barrage of threats and invasions of my privacy, yet a minor ‘inaccuracy’ is highlighted, while the bigger picture of unethical personal ‘investigations’ is left out. To me it’s small and distant echo of the way that IPSO’s forebear, the PCC dealt with the initial phone hacking allegations in the Guardian in 2009. Rather than expose the malpractice, they went on to castigate Nick Davies and Alan Rusbridger.
It’s only a tiny echo, I must repeat. But the IPSO process I’ve experienced begs the question: are the mainstream press still marking their own homework?
The Mail on Sunday and Phone Hacking
It’s only weeks after the draft adjudication that I looked up the IPSO complaints panel to find out that one of its senior members is the former editor of the Mail on Sunday – Peter Wright.
Roy Greenslade has argued Wright should not be sitting on the IPSO panel because he was a key member of the PCC when they castigated the Guardian for questioning the “rogue reporter” lie that News of the World were promulgating about phone hacking in 2009. Wright has replied he didn’t hold back any information, which Roy Greenslade has questioned. Make up your own mind who you believe
But one thing is without question – several Mail on Sunday journalists working for Wright were at the centre of these phone hacking allegations: and one of the most prominent is Dennis Rice.
There are still many unanswered questions about the PCC and Mail on Sunday at the time, which still bear investigation. But for the purposes of Dennis Rice’s complaint I am still trying to ascertain whether Peter Wright, his former boss, was part of the adjudication.
In a situation like this, the normal practice would be to declare a conflict of interest and recuse yourself from the decision
I have written to IPSO asking for clarification of Wright’s role in Rice’s complaint,but have yet to receive an answer. I will update as soon as I do
And then, I sincerely hope I will never have to return to this subject of Rice and Tabloid Troll ever again.
IPSO have kindly sent me a link to the minutes when the Rice v Press Gazette adjudication was first considered on October 15th. Peter Wright explained
“Peter Wright noted that he had formerly employed the complainant but had not been in contact with him for several years. The Committee agreed that this did not constitute a conflict of interest that should prevent his consideration of the complaint.”
Kudos to IPSO for transparency with their minutes. I personally think this is an insufficient declaration by Peter Wright though. Rice was regularly employed by Wright as a freelancer right up until the moment he left the editorship of Mail on Sunday in 2012.
Wright declares he hasn’t been in contact with Rice for “several years.” But a more accurate description would be he stopped working for him “a couple of years” back.
His declaration also mentions nothing about the crucial and contentious period in 2006 and the phone hacking of Rice, Hamilton and others, or Peter Wright’s knowledge of it. That should have sent sufficient alarms to the committee to make him recuse himself.
All in all, this minor issue gives me concern that the new regulator doesn’t have enough independent oversight.