‘MAKE THAI WIFE WATCH THE VIDEO OF HER HUSBAND’S BEHEADING!’ ORDERs NoW Exec
NEWS OF THE WORLD EMPLOYS GANGLAND BOSS TO SET UP CORONATION STAR WITH COCAINE
These are two headlines I guess I could have got round to writing in relation to the News of the World’s activities which I have encountered in South East Asia. There are others of course, but insignificant I suspect compared to much more outrageous stuff to come out or Britain in the shadow of major current political repercussions.
The point is, if I can write this sort of stuff from Bangkok, a mere backwater for staff of this newspaper, what on earth is going to come out elsewhere.
I was having a drink with a Chinese Malaysian businessman overlooking Kuala Lumpur’s brilliantly lit Petronas Towers when the News of the World’s closure by Murdoch was announced last week on BBC World.
‘Yes! Yes!’ I felt myself punching my air with my fist, thinking of a few people I would like to see go down, but later actually the mood turned to anger. How could a small bunch of absolute buffoons be allowed to dictate the newspaper’s news agenda and how that news was gathered, and thus bring such an institution to its knees.
The News of the World had indeed once been a great newspaper, well, a great newspaper of its own genre if you’re picky. I worked for nearly ten years there and for most of them it was a pleasure.
Stockings and suspenders
Yes, it always had its seamy side, in the old days it was lurid courts cases, kiss and tell stories, naughty vicars, and reporters seemingly endlessly making their excuses and declining sex from sirens in stockings and suspenders.
But most of that stuff came from PA Court service, news agencies, the features department, and a section known as the ‘Animals Room’.
Michael Stacpoole, whom I tracked down in Pattaya, was the aide to former Conservative Party deputy chairman and author Jeffrey Archer, jailed for perjury. Everybody wanted him at the time. The News of the World were offering six a figure sum. I declined. I didn’t trust them. I never told Stacpole though.
The animals went to Pattaya
(On reflection of course it was handy to blame the ‘animals’ – if things went wrong, though they did boast they had the softest skin in Fleet Street due to all those oil massages. But it seems the animals room was closed down and its occupants moved either into the newsroom or to Pattaya from where I have had to bail out a couple who were robbed of their posssessions)
The News Room was tasked to get the story of the week in politics, industry, crime, and, yes, scandal and controversy anywhere in the world if necessary.
But today you only have to listen to this guy , Paul MacMullan, a former deputy features editor, being lambasted by comedian/actor Steve Coogan to see something had seriously gone wrong and what calibre of ‘executive’ the News of the World had started employing.
When I joined the News of the World in my twenties it was because, to put it simply, the paper was known for going after the ‘bad guys’. (I suppose it still is, but why do most of the bad guys just seem to be a stream of ‘B’ celebrities being unfaithful and snorting lines of coke?)
There used to be a time when an investigation had to have at least two objectives and one of them was for the common good. Sex, drugs and rock n’ roll helped immensely of course.
The paper recently still recently came up with scoops, but to me the News of the World had indeed lost the plot a long time ago.
Don’t misunderstand me. I have no objection to the excesses of the rich and famous being aired in public but what has the News of the World being doing recently? – blatantly tapping into the lives of ordinary people going through the agony of the deaths of their most loved.
I became an under-cover Nazi for over a year for the News of the World. More recently it seems the paper itself has its own Gestapo.
Guardian journalist Nick Davies, with whom I have crossed swords, has done a remarkable job cataloguing the hacking story. He reckoned in a podcast that journalists at the News of the World (probably) did not commit illegal activities 20 years ago.
But seriously I would put this at a little bit longer, or more specifically when Bob Warren, probably one of the most respected news editors Fleet Street ever had, was promoted upwards, but sideways and out of the newsroom.
From Warren’s departure the News of the World decidedly began to have a new style news desk initially run by two chaps known as the ‘Rottweilers’.
But to those in the business these loose cannons must surely have been known , when Davies’ list coincides so closely with those on my ‘don’t call back list’.
Suffice it to say that when you forget the big picture and have narrowed your targets down to footballers, showbiz celebrities, on which you then you try and get the dirt by hook or by crook, and in this case tapping phone machines, you’re riding for a fall.
Slough of despond
And if you create a news room where the reporters have to watch their backs on all occasions and face black marks for any dissent, then you have created the slough of despond, where normal journalistic ethics fall by the wayside.
I am not angry that journalists paid the police. We did that in my time. Indeed one of our crime guys came from the ‘Sweeney’. Nor am I disturbed that they paid for contacts lists, or employed private eyes etc. Every newspaper did.
But I am angry at the allegations that the mobile phone of a young murder victim was hacked and so were the families of British armed forces victims.
And what I am totally gobsmacked about on a professional basis is how the News of the World could put a senior Scotland Yard officer under surveillance, purely on suspicion that he was having an affair with a reporter on ‘Crimewatch’, without even checking whether he was married or not to the person in question. (He was)
It would not have even been a story even if they were NOT married. But the News of the World also hired white vans and employed a person, who was actually under investigation by the officer in question for murder!
The arrogance of the News of the World executive, this play school sleuth, is almost beyond belief. And the naivety is staggering.
I was the only reporter to quit the newsroom and join the Wapping picket line in 1986, although there were 100 refusenik journalists in all.
And to put this in perspective this was not because I was in particular sympathy with the print unions. No journalist was wild about SOGAT, NATSOPA, or the NGA. But I knew the journalists (NUJ) would be next, beginning with yours sincerely, and if we did not come out in support, I was, heaven forbid, about to become part of the establishment – Margaret Thatcher’s establishment.
Chasing a gay M.P.
The fact is after ten years I was also a marked man. And I could see that Bob Warren, the up until now dependable cushion betwen me and ‘them’, would not be in a position to cover my back for much longer.
For my sins I had point blank refused to do a story, ordered by the then Editor, David Montgomery, which involved chasing a Labour M.P. around a gay club in East London. ( I was confident of a court battle because the Editor had for once amazingly put this in writing)
I had also been rightly fingered as the author of a number of articles in the satirical magazine ‘Private Eye’ involving Montgomery’s latest foibles. As I said, I was a marked man, but dying to make the leap of faith. The Wapping strike helped me jump.
When I did walk out, I went off around the world to do a documentary and expose a major drugs syndicate, something the News of the World should have been doing itself I pointed out haughtily at the time, happily making myself available to the National Union of Journalists for propaganda purposes.
I returned to take up a job on the ‘Observer’, a transition I suspect not many hacks from the newsroom will be doing this week no matter how talented they may be. In those days you were judged more on your merit and track record rather than your product loyalty. It is probably still the case, but not I suspect at NI.
NOWT’s BBC Hatchet Man Worked For The BBC
For instance at one time, while leading the News of the World campaign against ‘Waste at the BBC’, which continues to this day, I was also shifting on BBC Panorama on stories I was developing for them. Today both editors would be very uncomfortable at the thought. No, it would be unthinkable I guess.
At the 1984 Olympics for the News of the World – sorry about the tash!
Fast forward: 2004: I have dealt with the News of the World many times from Bangkok. But my colleague and I have for a long time kept a cool distance from what we call the ‘bedwetters’ on the NOTW News Desk. Listening to a News of the World briefing on a story could be a bit like watching John Craven’s newsround on speed. You can’t really believe what they are humourlously saying and think you must have misheard.
(Above Left: With a fledgling moustache at the ‘Top of the Tipperary’ pub in Fleet St. To the right is Roy Stockdill, the News of the World’s official bio-grapher. Now he has a new final chapter to write. He has written a piece about the current fiasco linked at the end of this story)
For the News of the World from Asia I had for instance tracked down ‘Gary Glitter’ in Vietnam, got a confession from serial killer John Martin Scripps in jail in Singapore, and provided a picture which showed how a Thai policeman, who murdered two British backpackers in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, had lied about hardly knowing his victims.
I had also put the lie to the story that two young British woman, Patricia Cahill and Karyn Smith were ‘innocent waifs’ when they were arrested with 30 kilos of heroin in Bangkok and squashed absurd claims that they were also the victims of a Foreign Office and British Customs cover up. Had they been I would have leapt at that story.
But the Guardian has not always been right
(The Guardian ran a campaign by Nick Davies making these claims and even quoted the fact that I had once been a News of the World reporter as some sort of evidence that my claims were invalid.)
Readers would not know to what level I was behind these stories of course because the NOTW put their own reporters names on the better stories – not a such a bad thing on reflection. And this may also be because executives were watching reporters by-line counts.
‘Not enough bylines and you’re out,” claimed Macmullan.
I do not really wish to join the pack of hounds gnashing away at NOWT staff but it would interesting to see James Weatherup and Neville Thurlbeck, among those who have been interviewed by police, telling a judge in mitigation: “But we caught Gary Glitter, M’lud.”
Dealing with the NOTW had, with few exceptions, always been troublesome. I always found it better just to turn off my phone otherwise I would get a screaming apparachnik wondering why I was here and not there, not doing this or that, who thought Bangkok was an inch away from Koh Samui, and then in any case would ask me how the weather was in Taiwan.
And some of their directions?
Show her the video!
The case of Sombat Bigley comes to mind. Sombat was the wife of Ken Bigley, who was kidnapped in Bagdad with two American colleagues and beheaded on video by Al Zarqawi’s cronies.
Together with my colleague I tracked her down and interviewed her in Thailand. It was not easy, but she took it in her stride. Then in came this ‘order’ from the NoW new desk.
‘Show her the video of her husband’s beheading. Get her reaction!’
Needless to say that never happened. But what sort of person could even think this one up?
The fluent interview did however run in the News of the World under the name of some staff reporter who had just arrived.
Fast forward 2010: Then last year I came across a member of a major British gangland family from Manchester, who was working as an ‘enforcer’ for a Dutch developer who was having problems with irritating foreign buyers on one of his developments in Hua Hin.
In his cups along Bangkok’s Sukhumvit Soi 22, where he had befriended a very dubious English bar owner, he gleefully described his great relationship with the News of the World Manchester office. He had, he said, been paid to help set up a ‘Coronation Street’ * star with cocaine by a young News of the World journalist.
With former Editor Derek Jameson, and there’s that moustache again, but I had been an under-cover Nazi for a year when this picture was taken!
The plan backfired he said, because he got drunk and the wires to the video-cam were exposed.
British Embassy staffer high on cocaine?
Then, he said, he had met a member of the British Embassy staff in Bangkok who took cocaine and would I like to do the same with him? Obviously my admission that I had once worked for the newspaper had given him the impression that I would be up for this particular wheeze.
No thanks, I said, very politely, taking the business card of the British Embassy official anyway and sending it back to its owner.
I cannot verify the truth about the ‘Coronation Street’ star story, and let’s face it, the gentleman in question did not live a life adhering to the truth.
But I was able to confirm that the young journalist knew him, as indeed, so now did I. The point is not whether the story is true as it was told to me, but whether, in the light of how the newspaper has been behaving, it could possibly be so, and the answer is probably yes.
Last Sunday the News of the World published its farewell issue showcasing its best headlines over the years. Like Roy Greenslade, also linked at the end of this story, an ex-tabloid man and now Media commentator for the Guardian I was unmoved. With a few exceptions observers might agree that by far the best stories happened decades ago when Scotland Yard officers like Ken Drury of the Flying Squad, were falling like flies and Christine Keeler was revealing all in the Profumo spy drama.
(Right: One of Andy Chant’s many pictures of Gary Glitter in Vung Tau. The girl is old at 16, because she was Gary’s procurer.)
I would not wish to belittle the good exclusives which the newspaper did occasionally produce, but now I am forced to ask, like millions of others, where did they come from. Was it merely cash or a phone tap?
Never in a million years would I have believed that a Fleet Street newspaper could have been closed because of the actions of its journalists, albeit under extreme pressure from their executives.
So there you have it. I am not crying too much over the papers demise. But I feel genuinely for those innocent guys in Wapping who have been thrown on the heap and I hope they recover.
Tabloid newspapers used to be essential watchdogs for the great British public. The question now is who, if anybody, is going to step into the News of the World’s place, and provide the genuine service for which they had a good reputation.
Footnote for non- Brits.* ‘Coronation Street’ is Britain’s longest running TV soap. ‘Crimewatchers’ is the nearest British equivalent to ‘America’s Most Wanted’ and ‘The Sweeney’ is short for Sweeney Todd, rhyming slang for ‘Flying Squad’ Scotland Yard’s ‘Life on Mars’ armed robbery unit.
In Mexico City on the trail of serial killer John Martin Scripps for the News of the World. Scripps was executed in Singapore. He had made a murder confession to me in prison in Singapore, which of course appeared under the byline of an NOWT reporter on a byline count
Left, with the Great Train Robbers outside Wandsworth Prison, London, after the kidnap of Ronald Biggs from Brazil (paid for by a newspaper magnate)
Pulling a wheeze on the Daily Mail: Followed by Linda, the Features Secretary, I draw off a reporter and photographer from the Daily Mail, in the background, who want to know where the News of the World has stashed Jane Stonehouse, the daughter of the Minister of Post and Telecommunications who did a ‘Reggie Perrin’ disappearing act while in power
With Neo-Nazis in Frankfurt in the 80’s. Despite their looks these guys were puppies compared to the British Movement, who’d ‘Seig Heil’ when anyone came in the room, and gratuitously attack any immigrant in sight. Many retired to Pattaya where they now have Thai wives.
Picture: With a News of the World’s requisitioned army land-rover running a ‘secret’ Nazi training camp on Pary’s Mountain * on Anglesey.
Well the camp was not so secret. When I ordered ten pints of lager and ten pints of bitter at the local pub the barmaid said: ‘Oh, you must be that Nazi lot then.”
* Corrected from Parrys Mountain, see letter below.
Below I think Editor Derek Jameson was a bit embarrased with the News of the World getting an award from the likes of ‘Searchlight’ and ‘Labour Weekly’.
Footnote: Two weeks into this I am bored with the subject. Having seen the two Murdochs and Rebekah Brooks, face the Parliamentray Committee on Media, Culture and Sport, I have to say they put up a better performance than the members of the committee itself.
Just how far up the knowledge of this hacking went is difficult to say. Did Brooks know for instance? The jury is out on this. I am not convinced that she did. But she never cut a sympathetic figure with her staff. Seems a few of the editors did not know the minutiae in what was happening on their newspaper, too busy I guess socialising with the country’s leaders.
Murdoch built his empire on the News of the World just how important it was for him I guess is indicated by how quickly he ditched it.