Last month’s civil ruling about Mirror Group phone hacking has revealed valuable new information about the industrial scale of voice mail interception at the newspaper group, and following some forensic leads, Paddy French at the Press Gang has begun to put a picture together of the industrial levels of intrusion into personal records commissioned by the Mirror Group.
The whole account ought to be read in full because it proves phone hacking was the more innocuous tip of a much darker iceberg, and once again explains how central Southern Investigations was to the corruption of Fleet Street: as a senior police officer once told me “without doubt the cradle where the dark arts were born.”
The following extract shows that, like News of the World, the Mirror Group were not only tracking celebrities but also political targets.
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.
Press Gang has 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 The Mirror’s 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 the 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 us he did not 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 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 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.