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From GB News to Prince Harry and Brexit: Byline Times’ Biggest Stories from 2023

It was a busy one.

Photo: GB News screengrab.

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2023 was a big year for Byline Times. We thought we’d take some time to share some of the major inroads the paper made into exposing wrongdoing – both the egregious and the bizarre – in the UK and elsewhere.

As editor Hardeep Matharu and exec editor Peter Jukes told supporters this week, we faced off against the aggressive lawyers of deep-pocketed public figures, endured direct physical threats to our staff, and chased leads that other papers wouldn’t dare touch.

As always, our brilliant network of supporters carried us along the entire way. So thank you to everyone who read, shared, subscribed, and donated last year. You made all this happen.

We know that 2024 – a major election year both at home and abroad – will bring a whole new set of challenges and opportunities. But first, a look back at some of our biggest stories of last year.

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10. Piers Morgan’s Statement on the Prince Harry Phone Hacking Case – Annotated

In December, the High Court ruled that phone hacking and other unlawful information gathering (“UIG”) occurred throughout Piers Morgan’s editorship at Mirror Group Newspapers – and that Morgan knew about it and published articles he knew came from it.

Morgan denied hacking a phone or telling people to do so – but his statement was mercilessly torn apart by strategist Dan Harris, who worked on the case. Well worth a read.

9. BBC Chairman Donated Tens of Thousands of Pounds to Right-Wing Group Funding Criticism of BBC

Next up among 2023’s most-read hits was our investigation into then-BBC chairman Richard Sharp, a Johnson appointee who faced endless scandal during his brief time as chair. 

We found that he had given tens of thousands of pounds through his personal charity to an organisation that funds right-wing organisations in the UK – several of which back the privatisation of the BBC. 

Richard Sharp – who has donated more than £400,000 to the Conservatives – gave the money to the Institute for Policy Research (IPR) think tank, Byline Times reported. He was forced to resign not long after, amid this and other outlets’ reporting on his controversial ties to the Tories. 

8. Dead Cats and Transphobic Lies

In June, pupils at a school in Rye, East Sussex made a recording which, it was claimed, had two students standing up to a teacher over a fellow pupil who ‘identified as a cat’.

The TikTok was swiftly “picked up by the fringe elements of the right-wing and conservative media on both sides of the Atlantic and was spread by a Twitter account claiming to be run by the mother of one of the students.” 

Except, as Otto English revealed, no child had identified as a cat at the school. It was a case of manufactured hysteria – and arguably did great damage to conversations about gender in the UK. 

7. Russia and the US Press: The Article the CJR Didn’t Publish

A few years ago, the Columbia Journalism Review refused to publish Duncan Campbell’s investigation into influential US title The Nation magazine and its apparent support for Vladimir Putin. This wasn’t known about until published Campbell’s damning response in full. It raised big questions for the publication that is meant to be a watchdog against media wrongdoing.

6. PPE Firm Subject to £122m Recovery Action from UK Government Has Only £4m in Assets

Byline Times was the first publication to reveal in September 2020 that PPE Medpro had won hundreds of millions in Government COVID contracts, just 44 days after being incorporated.

Our digging didn’t stop there. Stephen Delahunty reported last June that the firm at the centre of UK Government legal action to recover £122m, after it won contracts through the so-called ‘VIP lane’ of suppliers, has posted assets of just over £4m.

The claim, being brought by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), is looking to recover the full multi-million-pound figure from PPE Medpro, under a contract for it to supply 25m sterile surgical gowns that was awarded in June 2020. 

5. Cropped Out: The Curious Tale of the BBC, Brexit and our Missing Vegetables

Patrick Howse’s vital analysis of the real impact of Brexit – and how the true scale had been ignored by UK media – garnered a lot of attention in February. “The shortage of vegetables in the UK has been noticed in Europe, with serious newspapers publishing articles about how Britain’s supermarkets are limiting the number of peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes that customers can buy and featuring photos of the extensive gaps on their shelves.”

There was little such coverage from our own tabloid press, of course. 

4. Prince Harry Takes a Stand for Us All: ‘If They’re Supposedly Policing Society, Who On Earth is Policing Them?’

In 2023, the Duke of Sussex became the first senior member of the Royal Family in more than 130 years to give evidence to a civil court. “He also became one of the British establishment’s own – a prince of the realm, no less – to expose what he alleges was illegal information gathering by one of this country’s major tabloid newspaper groups” – the Mirror Group, an action he subsequently won.

Our editor Hardeep Matharu argued – whatever our views on the royals – he stood up for all of us. 

3. Queen had ‘Secret Agreement’ with Murdoch Papers to Spare Harry Hacking Trial Ordeal, Court Hears

Dan Evans revealed in April that Queen Elizabeth II entered into a “Secret Agreement” with Rupert Murdoch’s British tabloids to spare Princes William and Harry from a phone hacking trial, the Duke of Sussex has claimed in new legal papers.

The late monarch and top Buckingham Palace staff approved the deal – allegedly negotiated without legal advice – in 2012 with the publishers of The Sun and News of the World in a bid to avoid “reputational damage” to the Royal “institution”.

2. Laura Kuenssberg’s Time as BBC Political Editor has been a Catastrophic, Systemic Failure

Patrick Howse’s 2022 piece exploring Laura Kuenssberg’s time as BBC Political Editor had a resurgence this year, with the writer arguing that her tenure was a catastrophe. Kuenssberg continues to host her own Sunday BBC show and is likely to feature prominently in this year’s General Election coverage from the public broadcaster.

1. GB News Investigation: Dan Wootton Unmasked

It was our biggest story of the year by far. In July, Dan Evans and Tom Latchem revealed that GB News presenter and MailOnline columnist Dan Wootton hid behind fake online identities to trick and bribe scores of men into revealing compromising sexual material. Evans’ and Latchem’s three-year special investigation made waves, and the impact continues to be felt in the media. 

For a recap, they found that Wootton, the 40-year-old broadcaster and self-styled voice against ‘woke’ culture – targeted journalistic colleagues, friends and members of the public for at least 10 years through so-called ‘catfishing’ methods.

In October, following a misogynistic rant on Wootton’s show by actor and hard-right activist Lawrence Fox, GB News axed Wootton. He has now been scrubbed from their presenter rostra online. 

Well over a million people read this many-pronged investigation, and millions more through (eventual) wider media attention. (Wootton continues to deny any allegations of illegality.)

Bonus Picks

“Landmark Ruling in Strasbourg as MPs Challenge UK Government over Failure to Investigate Russian Interference in Brexit”

    In response to a glaring lack of electoral and national security, a group of parliamentarians took the UK Government to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) last March, with the support of campaigning journalism organisation The Citizens. 

    The cross-party group of MPs – including Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, Labour’s Ben Bradshaw and the SNP’s Alyn Smith – claim the Government is infringing our “right to free and fair elections” by failing to act on the findings of the Russia Report, which found credible evidence of Russian interference in Brexit. Read the details here.

    Constituents Launch Campaign to Unseat Conservative Deputy Chairman Lee Anderson for Making ‘Laughing Stock of Area’

    We reported in July that constituents of Lee Anderson, Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party, are launching a campaign to build a “fighting fund” to prevent his re-election this year.

    Anderson’s controversial style has been the subject of frequent press coverage, with reports of him “bullying” a local radio presenter who asked him about allegations of lying, publicising salaries of his staff, and challenging Remain protester Steve Bray to a boxing match.

    The MP for Ashfield has come under scrutiny for his apparent friendship with members of far-right groups. And now his constituents are getting organised…

    The Departure Lounge 

    Towards the end of last year we said goodbye to a close friend of Byline Times, who wrote regularly for the outlet, James Doleman. Before he passed away, he wrote movingly about his terminal diagnosis and the state of the NHS. Do read it. Rest in peace, James. 

    Gary Lineker, Andrew Neil and the BBC’s Real Impartiality Crisis

      Our political editor Adam Bienkov wrote: “The treatment of Lineker, like the treatment of other former BBC hosts who felt forced to leave in recent years after coming under pressure for their supposedly ‘left-wing’ views, stands in stark contrast to the much more lenient treatment meted out to other prominent figures at the corporation.” Like, for example, Andrew Neil…

      Thanks for reading. If you want to help us continue to investigate cronyism, corruption and chaos in public life, please support our legal crowdfunder. With your support, we can keep digging – and make 2024 our biggest year yet.  

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      Josiah Mortimer also writes the On the Ground column, exclusive to the print edition of Byline Times.

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