The Bad Press Hunters – ‘A Major Organised Crime Story’
Stephen Colegrave talks to two journalists relentlessly exposing media criminality.
Featured in a recent BBC Radio 4 documentary, Graham Johnson and Dan Evans are reformed journalists who now expose corrupt practices and illegal activities in the British media.
Graham was the only reporter to have voluntarily come forward to admit to phone hacking in his tabloid days, while Dan was the sole ‘witness of truth’ in the phone hacking ‘super-trial’ of 2014. They have been on both sides of a scandal the full extent of which – eight years after the Leveson Inquiry into the practices and ethics of the press was launched – has still yet to emerge. And they know that if they themselves do not tell the story, no one else will…
This is a major organised crime story where the Mr Bigs have got away with it.Graham Johnson, head of Byline Investigates
The British press is the least trusted in Europe. Much of this is because of its reliance on privacy intrusion and illegal news gathering, which has characterised large sections of the press over the past 40 years. The Leveson Inquiry report in 2012 revealed the extent of this law-breaking and phone hacking, blagging and the bribing of police officers. But, there is still a culture of editorial dishonesty and the monstering of victims, which commentators like Brian Cathcart, founder of Hacked Off, say now concentrates on racism, misogyny and minorities.
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Graham and Dan are not what you might expect.
Both learnt their trade as investigative journalists for two of the most notorious tabloids – the now defunct News of the World and the Sunday Mirror – but they are modest and unassuming. The two of them are more like forensic accountants than Indiana Jones. They take a methodical and patient approach to finding the evidence to make the press pay for its wrongdoing.
“We don’t have any ego,” Graham says. “We are not investigating for ourselves. We are doing it because we are journalists, and this is an amazing story that has never even been half told, and which no one else seems to want to touch.”
Perhaps this humility is because both have been part of the system themselves. Graham and Dan are still very bruised by their time in tabloid newsrooms. They and their colleagues were intimidated and bullied by editors, fired at whim if they didn’t cut corners and find stories before other papers.
We cannot move on to the type of media we deserve unless there is truth and reconciliation. This, and my family, is what I am dedicated to now.Dan Evans, AltLev.org
When they realised that they were the only journalists prepared to speak out, and that the people who were behind the criminality and malpractice were likely to get off scot-free, they decided to use their investigative skills to uncovering the true extent of the rottenness of the press.
As Dan says: “We cannot move on to the type of media we deserve unless there is truth and reconciliation. This, and my family, is what I am dedicated to now.”
As head of investigations at Byline Investigates, Graham has researched, evidenced and written more than 40 articles. Last year, he debriefed whistleblower John Ford to reveal 15 years of blagging and other dark arts at the prestigious Murdoch broadsheet the Sunday Times. The team has established the extent of phone hacking at Mirror Group Newspapers and produced dozens of court reports about alleged phone hacking at the Sun (which the bestselling red top denies). They are now looking at evidence relating to the Mail on Sunday and Daily Mail.
Five years on, it seems a good time to ask both journalists if they have achieved their aims and whether they think this mission is still relevant today – when the focus on privacy and illegality seems to have moved to social media.
The cancellation of Leveson Part 2 by Theresa May’s Government (the only commitment in the 2017 Conservative Manifesto she has implemented) is just another example of political collusion with press barons.
Both Graham and Dan are adamant that they are still only at the early stages of what they want to achieve. Yes, they have already proved that phone hacking included many more papers like the Mirror Group.
They have revealed that the Mail on Sunday was buying phone hacked data and, when the paper’s top columnist, Tina Weaver, was exposed by them as a phone hacking mastermind at another newspaper, she was summarily sacked. They have shown that the Sunday Times used blagging to target the bank accounts of Gordon Brown and all manner of other illegality relating to hundreds of others. The combined legal and compensation costs to all the papers involved has already exceeded £500million and is estimated to double.
However, this is clearly only the first part of the Byline Investigates team’s mission. Dan and Graham believe that many of the people who were responsible for commissioning and bullying journalists into phone hacking and blagging are still in positions of power: they need to be exposed.
“Well-known figures are still in post,” Graham explains. “Although they are widely acknowledged to have been part of it. This is a major organised crime story where the Mr Bigs have got away with it.”
Both reporters are incensed by the scrapping of the promised second part of the Leveson Inquiry into the culture of Fleet Street, which was meant to be held back only until all criminal trials had finished. They are suspicious that the cancellation of Leveson Part 2 by Theresa May’s Government (the only commitment in the 2017 Conservative Manifesto she has implemented) is just another example of political collusion with press barons.
Graham explains that the web of media criminality spread right across from the police to Westminster. He cited the murder of private investigator Daniel Morgan, which was described in the House of Commons as revealing a “criminal-media nexus”. Rather like Russian ‘kompromat’, it is widely acknowledged that tabloid editors used the threat of personal revelations to lean on politicians. This – and relations with the police – are among what he was expecting Leveson 2 to investigate.
So, how can these two journalists – however dedicated and resourceful – recreate the impact and power of Leveson 2 and complete the picture?
Their confidence seems misplaced until they patiently explain the next stage of their quest.
Dan is creating an archive of evidence that would have been considered by Sir Brian Leveson – or another senior judge – to a high level of detail and proof, so that it may be reviewed independently by a retired member of the judiciary who will then be commissioned to write an ‘alternative’ Leveson 2 report. To do this, he has set up AltLev.org. Meanwhile, Graham will continue his quest as head of Byline Investigates.
Of course, they can only do this with all of our help, both in providing testimony and evidence, as well as funding. So we can all be part of this movement.
Byline Times will be following this story and helping Graham and Dan speak truth to media power.
DECLARATION OF INTEREST: Byline Investigates is part of Byline.com, which shares some personnel and directors in common with Byline Times. However, they are separate independent publishers.