‘What We’re Doing is Illegal’The Private Investigator,The Daily Express Editor & the Daniel Morgan Report
Gary Jones once worked for the News of the World and the Daily Mirror. Today he edits the Daily Express. Will he figure in the report of the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel, out next week? Brian Cathcart considers the evidence
One person who may be awaiting the report of the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel with more than usual interest is the editor of the Daily Express, Gary Jones – and not just because he is hoping for a good story for his newspaper.
Jones is personally relevant to the Panel’s business. As a senior reporter at the Daily Mirror he was a leading customer of Southern Investigations, the firm of illegal information gatherers at the centre of the whole Morgan affair. And some of what Southern was supplying to him was not legal.
How do we know this? Most conspicuously from the unwitting testimony of Jonathan Rees, the senior partner in Southern whose conversations were for a time secretly recorded by anti-corruption police. It is remarkable evidence, and a story worth telling.
On 6 July 1999, those police recordings tell us, Rees rang Gary Jones, then a senior reporter at the Daily Mirror, to say he was faxing through invoices totalling £16,991 for work done by Southern for Mirror papers over the previous five months.
‘When it comes through you’ll see the invoices with lots of stars next to them and roughly billed at about £300-odd, which is print-outs,’ Rees explained. There would be 19 invoices of this kind, marked with the initials of the reporters who ordered them – ‘G.J. being you,’ he told Jones.
So about a third of the total, perhaps £6,000, was accounted for by jobs that involved Southern providing ‘print-outs’. Rees spelled this out on the phone because the invoices themselves were worded vaguely.
Later that day Jones called Rees back to say the accounts department wanted more detail in the invoices. Rees became cross, at which point the reason for the vague wording became very clear.
‘This is tiresome, fucking tiresome,’ he said. ‘We are not going to put the numbers in there because what we are doing is illegal, isn’t it? I don’t want people coming in and nicking us for a criminal offence, you know.’
It is quite an exchange. Rees, who later that year would be jailed for attempting to frame an innocent woman by planting cocaine in her car, is caught telling a journalist who has since been promoted to the editorial chair at the Daily Express: ‘What we are doing is illegal, isn’t it?’
Other evidence indicates that the ‘print-outs’ in question were lists of numbers called from particular phones, acquired by Rees at the behest of Mirror journalists. This kind of information is difficult, if not impossible, to acquire lawfully.
You may not have heard of this bugged exchange before (it has never, for example, been reported in the Mirror or the Express), but it is no secret. It was quoted by Nick Davies in his 2014 book Hack Attack, by Alastair Morgan and Peter Jukes in their 2017 book about the Daniel Morgan murder, Untold, and at fullest length by the investigative website Press Gang in a series of postings relating to Piers Morgan in 2014-2016.
Davies wrote (p 93) that police involved in the covert operation subsequently sent files to the Crown Prosecution Services about alleged illegal information gathering, including evidence relating to Jones and two other journalists. Anyone familiar with the pattern of events in the Daniel Morgan case will know the result: no prosecutions followed.
Perhaps next week something will change. Perhaps the pattern will be broken.
The terms of reference of the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel include a requirement to examine ‘the incidence of connections between private investigators, police officers and journalists at the News of the World and other parts of the media and alleged corruption involved in the linkages between them’.
A recorded conversation about illegal activity between a private investigator and a Mirror journalist certainly seems to fit that description. And it is not the only evidence relating to Gary Jones that the Panel would have been able to consider.
Davies called Southern Investigations a cesspit, and it is easy to see why. Rees was, for many years, a suspect in the 1987 murder of Daniel Morgan, who was his business partner. After the murder Morgan’s place in the firm was taken by Sid Fillery, a former police officer who had been a detective in the first investigation of the case who was later convicted of possessing indecent images of children. Rees and Fillery have always denied involvement in the murder.
As we have seen, the Panel’s remit goes beyond the murder to cover wider corruption, and there is no shortage of proof that the chief speciality of Southern Investigations under Rees and Fillery was the use of corrupt police officers and other officials to get hold of secret or confidential information.
Gary Jones was an important customer. According to Davies, it began when Jones was at the News of the World and worked with Alex Marunchak, a senior executive who was very close to Rees and Fillery and made extensive use of their services. After Piers Morgan moved as editor from the News of the World to the Daily Mirror in 1995, Jones followed him across, and he brought with him the connection to Southern Investigations.
So what kind of work did Southern do for the Mirror – and in particular for Jones? We have clues, because the covert police operation in 1999 (called Operation Two Bridges) didn’t just bug Southern’s office, it also seized documents, including invoices, some of which have since found their way into public view.
In August 2011, for example, Robert Peston, then the BBC’s economics editor, obtained a set. By his calculation they showed that Mirror papers employed Rees on 230 occasions between October 1997 and September 1999, at a total cost of £67,000.
Some time later Press Gang also acquired the invoices and it published descriptions, including some relating to Gary Jones. For example:
- On 20 May 1998 Jones ordered ‘confidential enquiries’ into the girlfriend of the son of former Prime Minister John Major – cost: £282.
- On 13 July 1998 Jones asked Rees to obtain ‘bankers’ details’ about Roger Liddle and Derek Draper, both then close to the Labour government – £662.47.
- On 21 Sept 1998 Jones asked for ‘banker’s details’ about Arthur Scargill’s wife Margaret – £403.37.
- On 6 Oct 1998 Jones ordered ‘financial/company information’ about the former rugby international Will Carling – £677.97.
- On 19 Oct 1998 Rees billed Jones for ‘detailed financial searches’ relating to a boyfriend of the television presenter Anthea Turner – £1,069.
- On 4 Jan 1999 Jones asked Rees to find information about Alistair Campbell, then press secretary to Tony Blair – £499.37.
Only some of these searches provided information for articles, meaning that others were probably ‘fishing expeditions’, carried out simply to see if anything interesting turned up. Like the telephone ‘print-outs’ referred to in the bugged conversation, a lot of this information would have been very difficult to acquire legally.
In December 1998, Press Gang has reported, Jones asked Rees for information about the finances of Peter Mandelson, then the Trade Secretary. Soon afterwards Mandelson resigned from the government because he had failed to declare a large personal loan that was revealed in the Mirror. According to Peston, Rees supplied mortgage, savings account and current account details, including balances and direct debits, and the Mirror paid £1,116 for this.
Meanwhile Untold linked Rees with a story written by Gary Jones and another reporter about the personal finances of Prince Michael of Kent, the Queen’s cousin. ‘Prince’s Bank Crisis’ was the paper’s front-page splash on 26 January 1999, and Untold asserted (p 209) that this was ‘based on information Rees had illegally obtained’.
The same claim was made again two years ago in court documents linked to phone hacking claims against the Mirror papers. The ‘Generic Particulars of Claim’ produced by lawyers acting for claimants (and reported on here) alleged as follows:
‘This story was obtained illegally through the use by Mr Jones of private investigators Jonathan Rees and Southern Investigations. Mr Rees provided him [Gary Jones] with the numbers of three of the Prince’s company’s bank accounts, and had commissioned a known blagger . . . to blag private financial information from the bank.’
To be clear, the allegation here is not of phone hacking but of ‘blagging’, or accessing private information by various forms of deception, most of which are illegal. The professional blagger used by Rees in this case, John Gunning, would be convicted of data theft offences in 2006.
The Mirror group’s lawyers response was revealing:
‘. . . it is denied that the story was obtained, and it is not admitted that it was corroborated or sought to be corroborated, by unlawful information gathering. MGN is aware of two Southern Investigations invoices dated 25 January 1999 referring to Cantium, both of which stated that they were for “making enquiries of confidential contacts” and a further Southern Investigations invoice dated 1 March 1999 which stated that it was for “undertaking a company computerised credit search”. It is therefore denied, if that is intended to be alleged, that any illegality, if there were any, was evident on the face of these invoices.’
In short, the Mirror confirmed that, four days before the publication of the article about the prince’s finances, Southern Investigations invoiced it twice for work relating to Cantium, a ‘personal business consultancy’ owned by the prince. The paper, however, denied that the story was obtained illegally, pointing out that the relevant invoices did not prove that they were.
A reminder: this occurred five months before the bugged phone call in which Rees explained to Gary Jones that some of his invoices were expressed in vague terms because ‘what we are doing is illegal, isn’t it?’ This too might fall within the remit of the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel.
It was in September 1999 that Rees was arrested for planting the cocaine. As Press Gang has explained, the Mirror papers soon switched their business to another private investigator, Steve Whittamore. ITV News would later calculate that the Daily Mirror alone paid Whittamore at least £92,000 up to March 2003 – when he too was arrested, subsequently pleading guilty to data theft.
Gary Jones was a Whittamore customer. His name figures on a list of names of Whittamore’s journalistic clients made public by the Information Commissioner in 2015 as a result of court action. Appearing on the list does not imply criminality.
The Mirror group would subsequently admit, during the course of the continuing phone hacking litigation, that between 2000 and 2007 it paid more than £2.25 million to private investigators.
And it made other important admissions, summed up in this judgment (para 24 and para 52) which may well have been helpful to the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel. The judge, Mr Justice Mann, summed up:
‘The defendant [the Mirror papers] has admitted that “an unquantifiable but substantial” number of the inquiries made of the agents [in 2000-07] is likely to have been to obtain private information that could not be obtained lawfully.’
What Jones Says
Gary Jones has never been arrested, let alone charged or prosecuted. What does he say about all of this?
In January this year, he was asked about ‘the massive use of private investigators’ in an otherwise congratulatory half-hour interview on BBC Radio 4’s The Media Show. He replied: ‘Looking back, was it a mistake? Yes. Simply because more journalistic methods that were acceptable should have been used.’
Apparently struggling to find the right words, he went on: ‘Look, it was, it was… Finding information about where people lived – basic information – was actually quite difficult, you know, pre-web. It was really quite complicated, and a lot of newspapers used them [private investigators].’
The interviewer, Amol Rajan, did not challenge this by asking about, for example, the searches Jones commissioned into people’s financial records (not ‘basic information’ or ‘where people lived’), or about Rees’s recorded declaration to Jones that ‘what we are doing is illegal’.
Instead Jones was allowed to conclude on the subject: ‘The industry is almost unrecognisable from what it was 20-30 years ago . . . Have we atoned for those sins? I think we’re still getting there, but I think we’ve learnt a lot.’
One way in which the industry is eminently recognisable from those bad old days is that Gary Jones, like Rebekah Brooks at the Murdoch organisation, is still there. In fact both of them have been promoted.
Brian Cathcart is Professor of Journalism at Kingston University London and the author of ‘The Case of Stephen Lawrence’ (1999)
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