Magazine article The Spectator

I Stitched Up the News of the World

Magazine article The Spectator

I Stitched Up the News of the World

Article excerpt

NOW it can be told. A couple of months ago - following the stitch-up by the News of the World of Lawrence Dallaglio and the 10th Earl of Hardwicke (to name but two of the paper's victims this year) - The Spectator decided to offer the bestselling Sunday tabloid a series of increasingly preposterous stories. The editor, Boris Johnson, called me in to act as stooge. My mission: (1), to examine the claim of the News of the World that it acts only in the public interest, and (2), to tempt it with scandalous gossip whose exposure couldn't conceivably lead to the moral improvement of society.

When Gary Glitter was convicted on child porn charges last week and trudged off to the nick in his Bacofoil boilersuit I got a call from the editor. `Time to pull the rip-cord on this one,' he growled. Mr Glitter was not the victim of a stitch-up, it is true, but the News of the World had offered the witness against him in an underage sex case 25,000 for any first-person story by her following a conviction on that charge. Mr Glitter was not convicted. The News of the World has yet to reveal how it served the public interest in this instance. That's why we have now decided, in the public interest, to describe in full and frank and intimate detail how the News of the World deals with the stories of the punters who approach it with bits and pieces of dirt - wrapped up, in my case, in a series of implausible fables:

Fable One: Petronella Wyatt makes a few quid on the side by dealing cocaine to her upper-class friends. I phoned the News of the World, posing as one of her mates, and offered to betray her for 5,000. A somewhat shirty cockney noted down the details, asked my price and said he'd call back in half an hour.

Six minutes later he was back on the line, brimming with self-approval. They'd realised I'd underestimated the value of the story: as I have since learned, its true worth was probably nearer 20,000. `Right,' said the cockney, `we're goner accept your first price. 'Course, normal practised mean we'd offer you three 'n' a half and then settle on four grand. But we'll play it straight. Five thousand you want. Five thousand you'll get.'

I arranged to meet him in a pub. We'd have a chat, I'd sign a contract, we'd enjoy a drink, and then we'd set about ruining Petronella's career.

I backed out of the deal, as instructed, in order to see what moves the News of the World would make to talk me back into it. I rang my contact, Nigel Atkins, and told him I wanted out. He insisted that we meet all the same, and we arranged a rendezvous in a pub in Bethnal Green.

In the pub Mr Atkins sat with his back to the wall, wearing a grey Next suit and a silvery worm knotted around his neck. Nondescript features. Slightly jowly. A local boy. Very chatty about his profession.

`We got reporters all over the world,' he boasted.

Where?

`Guy in LA. Guy in Europe.' ... And?

Nowhere. Those two places apparently count as `all over the world'.

He let me know that the Petronella scandal could be revived whenever it suited me. The editor, he told me, felt they'd run enough celebrity drug scandals recently and would focus on different subjects for the next few weeks. Like what? I said. `Uh, politics. Women's issues.'

Mr Atkins probed my reasons for backing out. He offered to double the money to 10,000. He said my name would be kept out of it. `We always protect our sources,' he said. The money could be paid in cash, or into the bank account of a friend. He even offered protection (`We put people up in hotels') in case Petronella put the frighteners on me. An intriguing prospect. I could imagine her hanging around in pubs in the Old Kent Road, sipping a Babycham and trying to hire unemployed scaffolders to break my legs for 50 quid.

He had a final stab. He suggested that if I didn't betray her someone else might get there before me. Thus, he hinted, I would lose out. After chatting to Mr Atkins for half an hour I made my excuses and left. …

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