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In Plain Sight: The Picture the Palace Probe Missed

In 2020, Simon Case was tasked to investigate payments from Dan Wootton and The Sun to the partner of a royal press officer, allegedly for information about Prince Harry and Meghan. He found there was no evidence of wrongdoing. But Byline Times can shed further light

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This article was first published in the November 2023 print edition of Byline Times

It’s the friendship Prince William’s former right-hand-man Simon Case concluded simply didn’t exist. And yet here are one-time royal press secretary Christian Jones and his publicist partner huddling together for an intimate celebratory photograph with ‘cash-for-leaks’ journalist Dan Wootton.

The occasion was Wootton’s 35th birthday party in March 2018. The location was the private terrace of a £1,675-a-night suite at London’s exclusive hotel The Ned. The guests were 20 “incredible friends” (in Wootton’s own words) – hand-picked to enjoy his extensive largesse. The issue is that it was a ‘friendship’ that – when legal ­documents later named Christian Jones – he flatly denied.

None of which could have seemed possible as Jones and his partner toasted the birthday boy – just a few days from winning a third British Press Award for ‘Showbiz Reporter of the Year’, and five years before he was unmasked as a serial catfish targeting young celebrities and colleagues for sexual images – with Veuve Clicquot among the potted ­peonies and Carrara marble tables on the 35m sq entertaining terrace of a hotel suite complete with a mahogany four-poster bed and roll-top bathtub.

One of the party’s attendees told Byline Times that “there was no expense spared” and “everyone invited was part of Dan’s special group of mates”.

“Dan hired a private dining room and laid on a set menu with three options for each course,” they said. “It was champagne and cocktails and whatever you wanted from the menu. Just 20 ate and then a few more turned up to celebrate with Dan upstairs on his terrace before heading on to a club in Shoreditch. It was lavish. There was no expense spared. Everyone invited was part of Dan’s special group of mates. Dan paid for everything.

This apparent closeness, as illustrated by the photo Wootton uploaded to Instagram and captioned with three red hearts on 11 March 2018, presented a problem, however, for Jones and his long-term publicist partner.

For, after Jones took the job of deputy communications secretary to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in December 2018, Wootton paid the publicist for stories which, according to a whistleblower account, led to a secretive internal investigation at The Sun newspaper, which feared being sucked into a leaks scandal just a few years after some of its journalists were prosecuted over payments to public officials.

Christian Jones (right) and Dan Wootton at The Ned

‘Just A Fluke’

The Sun has never confirmed anything on the record, but Byline Investigates – the sister website to this newspaper – revealed in June 2020 how lawyers for the Duke of Sussex, armed with credible but anonymously supplied information apparently originating from inside The Sun’s publisher News UK, were threatening to sue the tabloid over the publication of stories written by Wootton – and negatively spun against the Sussexes – headlined ‘Nanny McThree’ and ‘Tot Secret’.

They were published in June and July 2019 and centred on nannying and god-parenting arrangements for the Sussexes’ son Archie. Payments of £4,000 had been made to the publicist in August 2019 and were identified by way of an internal News UK accounting code. The matter had been referred to both Buckingham Palace and Britain’s then top anti-terrorism police officer, Scotland Yard’s Neil Basu, for investigation.

Basu’s job was to try to establish whether there was any case for a criminal prosecution for misconduct in public office – the crime for which nine police officers were convicted, based on evidence handed over by the Murdoch media empire to Scotland Yard’s 2016 Operation Elveden, for accepting money from journalists for information.

After the Metropolitan Police failed to obtain the full identity of the ­whistle­blowing Sun insiders – which it required to obtain a warrant to search royal property – Simon Case, the then private secretary to Prince William, was tasked to investigate from within Kensington Palace, where Jones was employed.

Byline Times, through a number of sources close to the matter, has been able to establish some details of the investigation and the processes that ultimately cleared Christian Jones of ­wrongdoing. Both he and his partner insist the allegations that Wootton paid for private information about the Sussexes are incorrect.

But this newspaper can reveal that, although when formally questioned by Case – who is today the head of the British Civil Service and facing tough questions at the Covid Inquiry over the quality of decision-making during the pandemic – Jones admitted to knowing Wootton and dealing with him on a professional basis, he strongly denied that either he, or his partner, were close friends with the journalist.

“Quite a long and involved process resulted from Prince Harry’s ­lawyers sending a letter before action to The Sun,” one source said. “Of course, Christian had to be questioned by his bosses about it. He said that, yes, he had known Dan for a while, but that he did not know him very well, and that Prince William’s courtiers who appointed him didn’t have a problem with it.

“Christian also told them that his partner had indeed been paid by The Sun at the time stated in the whistle­blower emails, and for the amounts described, but that the money related to stories about clients his partner represented in their work as a publicist, and was nothing to do with Prince Harry and Meghan.

“One of his partner’s clients supposedly had the same name as the Duchess of Sussex. There was the suggestion that this was the reason for some of the money paid and that the timing was just a fluke.

“On that basis, Christian faced no further action. He retained the confidence of Kensington Palace and later on had a couple of big promotions.”

Byline Times has learned that Jones’ position was that the allegations against him ought not to have been made at all on the basis of anonymous accusations, albeit they contained many correct details, including the internal News UK code, which warranted a legitimate case for further investigation.

Kensington Palace is understood to have sought to draw a line under the matter unless compelling new ­evidence emerged.

Alongside Wootton’s birthday Instagram photo, this newspaper has spoken to multiple other witnesses who say that Wootton tried to cultivate a friendship between the three.

EXCLUSIVE

The Truth About Megxit: How Dan Wootton and a Cash-For-Leaks Scandal Split the Royal Family

As Scotland Yard probes the journalist Dan Wootton over allegations of blackmail and serial sexual catfishing after a three-year special investigation by Byline Times, this newspaper can now reveal how his payments to the partner of a top royal aide forced the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to run from the UK


‘It Wasn’t Like It Was A Secret’

“It is true that Dan knew [Jones’ partner] pretty well,” one source said. “At the time, they were quite a young publicist who had worked for a couple of the London agencies and were keen to get on in their career. Dan knew this and made a point of including [the publicist] in his group, beyond just seeing them at the usual premieres and television events where publicists and journalists tend to rub shoulders.

“For [the publicist], knowing Dan was undeniably useful professionally. Dan had a hell of a lot of power with the Murdoch press and [the publicist] sometimes had clients who either wanted to be in those papers or to be kept out of them.

“They enjoyed the benefits of knowing Dan. Sometimes they got to use The Sun’s box at the 02 for gigs. They were often around each other socially in the West End. You’d see them at the usual media haunts like Soho House and Shoreditch House.

“Sometimes Christian was there too. He got to know Dan through his ­partner. They used to go out together quite regularly for a while, sometimes in a small group, sometimes in larger ones, for food and drinks. It wasn’t like it was a secret. Lots of people in their social set saw them and knew about it and, justifiably, assumed they were pretty close.”

Wootton was at the zenith of his ­personal power at The Sun and on a senior rota to periodically assume ­overall editing duties when Jones took up his post at Kensington Palace around Christmas 2018.

Jones’ principal job was to handle media matters for the Cambridges – his actual employers – with a dual role to look after the Sussexes. But a few weeks into his new appointment, Jones himself became the story.

On 23 January, The Sun published photos of Jones out in London’s Notting Hill with the Duchess of Sussex under the headline: ‘“WHAT A HOTTIE” Meghan Markle’s hunky new press ­secretary sets pulses racing as female fans urge Harry to “be careful”’.

Alongside paparazzi pictures snatched after a low-key work lunch with Meghan, who at the time was pregnant with Archie, the paper wrote: “Royal fans have been left hot under the collar after Meghan Markle stepped out with her hunky new press secretary.”

The article went on to quote social media comments praising Jones’ physical appearance and cited his LinkedIn CV, crediting the Cardiff University graduate as being a former Brexit speechwriter and Treasury press officer.

“In his new role,” the piece added, “he will liaise with British and international media as well support the royals’ ­charitable work and engagements.”

A media management source said the article “raised eyebrows” at the palace at the time, considering Jones’ “main job was to be a trusted point-man to guide and protect his employers from invasive media” coverage. Yet, this was the “equivalent of clattering straight into the first hurdle”.

Byline Times understands that any social connection between Wootton, Jones, and his partner ended following the investigations into the payments.

The first source said that “the friendships pretty much died” after this because for Jones or his partner to be seen publicly with Wootton “would have been a very bad look”.

Despite the inauspicious start to working life at the royal household, Jones went on to enjoy a successful three years there during which he stepped into the shoes of Simon Case, when Boris Johnson brought him into his Government during the pandemic, to be the private secretary to the Cambridges.

He left Prince William and Kate in January 2021 to become a partner and head of corporate affairs for Bridgepoint, a £31.56 billion private asset investment fund in the City.

EXCLUSIVE

Revealed: The Emails Behind the Royal ‘Cash-For-Leaks’ Affair

Detailed but anonymous testimony from insiders at The Sun sat at the heart of cash-for-leaks allegations involving a royal official and the newspaper’s former top editor Dan Wootton. Now, Byline Times can publish the details for the first time

Again, The Sun covered the career change, noting that Jones had enjoyed an “incredibly close relationship with Prince William”. The paper wrote: “Whereas Simon was credited with making the Duke a statesman – Christian has really helped them to steer them through their public-facing role during the pandemic. He’s helped them to grow in confidence by gently pushing them out of their ­comfort zone.”

Today, Jones’ partner continues to work as a publicist with some high-­profile clients.
Wootton did not comment on the record at the time of the 2020 Byline Investigates story. But his lawyers at Mishcon de Reya, one of Britain’s most costly law firms, denied that any ­payments were made unlawfully to a public official or a proxy and claimed their client was the victim of a smear campaign by unknown bad actors.

Byline Times put a series of detailed questions to a lawyer for the Royal Family, a spokesperson for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Dan Wootton, Christian Jones, Jones’ partner, and Simon Case. 

Dan Evans and Tom Latchem are former colleagues of Dan Wootton’s from the News of the World between 2007 and 2011. None of the sources or analysts cited either in this story or wider investigation were paid



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