I want to sell you a story: Wrongfully imprisoned? Sexually harassed? Stuck on the side of a mountain? When disaster strikes, the modern Briton knows exactly how to react: by selling the story to a tabloid

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NEWSPAPERS have always paid people for stories. In the Twenties, they footed defendants' legal bills at murder trials in return for exclusives; in 1963 the News of the World got Christine Keeler's confessions for pounds 23,000. Meanwhile, more high-minded papers have always criticised this chequebook chase - and then got out their own to let the rich and famous (Marlon Brando, Alan Clark) tell who they've slept with.

To operate this market, an ever more complex food-chain of reporters and sellers has evolved, passing news from tipsters in pubs and police stations to small-town weeklies to local news agencies to local correspondents to national news desks, with a swarm of freelancers competing where they can. Stories are repeated, approximated, inflated - as each person seeks his or her cut of money and prestige - until, at times, the process attains the precision of Chinese whispers.

Since the mid-Eighties, as papers have had to cut costs and struggle for customers just like other old industries, so the food chain has become more vicious (witness the recent bidding war over the Baby Abbie abduction story), and more visible (witness Max Clifford, more famous than his clients). A public that owns camcorders, watches Jeremy Beadle and reads tabloids knows the media's appetite for the strange or the tragic, and, with every chequebook story, is getting less embarrassed and more savvy about satisfying it. 'They're far more aware - more likely to pick up the phone,' says Clifford, 'to a paper, or someone like me.'

The tabloids are still the major players in this game, on account of their money, their circulations and their need for sensation. With the threat of privacy legislation hanging over their traditional kiss-and-tell and Royal stories, the relatively uncontentious first-person tale of woe - from the fortnight's anxiety of Abbie's mother to the misery of a Macclesfield man married for two and a half hours in May - has become their front-page staple. The appeal of such stories may be Schadenfreude rather than the more usual escapism of Bienvenida Buck's bedroom tales, but it's managing to rival sex on the news-stands.

Getting your sad story in the papers, however, remains fraught. Just as Emily Barr (the Commons researcher whose affair with Tory MP Hartley Booth was disclosed by the Sunday Mirror in April) was bullied into selling an interview by being told her story would be written regardless (and written against her if she didn't co-operate), so victims of personal misfortune are often pounded by a barrage of competing offers within hours of their disaster. Advice on how to negotiate with the hack pack is hard to get, especially from a hospital bed.

In theory, the Press Complaints Commission's code of practice helps, by restricting how far journalists can go: it has guidelines forbidding harassment, particularly 'in cases involving personal grief or shock', and protecting privacy, particularly in hospital. It also bars payment for stories, pictures or information 'to witnesses or potential witnesses in current criminal proceedings'. However, the Commission admits that these regulations require 'a substantial element of self-restraint by editors and journalists' - a restraint that is not always very evident when news-desks smell a disaster exclusive.

Some victims cope by refusing to sell. In April, Des Moloney fell 3,000ft out of an aeroplane piloted by his brother Tom and survived with minor injuries; eager for a Bank Holiday splash, reporters were passing written requests for interviews to him via nurses within minutes of his arrival in hospital. Tom rejected four-figure offers, called a press conference, invited all the reporters, and gave the same quotes and photos to everyone, free. The story was front-page for a day; then the Moloneys were left alone. Tom says they didn't need the money and didn't want the publicity. Similarly, when Pamela Caswell lost her husband, Dr Stephen Caswell, on Mont Blanc last month, she refused to give any gory details, and stopped talking to the press altogether as soon as she was misquoted. There's a class element to this: people like her and the Moloneys are less likely to read tabloids, to give them credence, or to look to them for money and fame.

Those who do sell find themselves in a shark pool. For a start, the price a tabloid will pay for a story leaps and plunges, according to the whims of their news-desks and editors, what they have published recently, where they want to put it in the paper, what else is on the market, and what the ever-shifting news value of any event is on any particular day. A tabloid might typically buy a personal disaster story for the front page for pounds 2,000, or pounds 20,000 if all the other tabloids are chasing it, or not print the story at all if something bigger and better comes along. Once a price is set, the path to full payment is set with ambushes by fee-absorbing middlemen and contract-waiving (if there is a contract) payment departments. And tabloid fame can have its unwanted side-effects: an editor's easiest follow-up to a sympathetic 'My Story' is an expose of the newly-created celebrity's less heroic sides.

Some people who take their traumas to the tabloids do get rich; others end up wishing they hadn't - and making a better argument against the news market than any number of holier-than-thou editorials. The case-histories on these pages show how some of this year's more prominent celebrity unfortunates fared after the chequebooks came out.

ABBIE HUMPHRIES: Daily Mirror - pounds 250,000?

The story: On 1 July a four-hour-old baby called Abbie was stolen from her mother, Karen Humphries, in a Nottingham hospital by an intruder dressed up as a nurse. Her abductor was a young childless woman called Julie Kelley, who had pretended to be pregnant to her boyfriend, Leigh Gilbert, for more than nine months before the kidnap. She hid Abbie in her house for 15 days, while the police searched and the press whipped itself into a frenzy of anxiety. The police eventually found them, arrested Kelly and reunited Abbie with her parents.

Saleable features: Where to start? A baby; nice parents; plot twists (the first time police found Kelley with Abbie, they believed her explanation and went away again) and universal passions (two women's desperation to have a child); accumulating momentum of public interest in an unsolved kidnap; anxiety from countless past child murders.

How did it make the front page? The kidnap went straight to all the front pages via the police for the 15 days. Similarly, when Abbie was found, Humphries spoke to the press indiscriminately. Then the tabloid hunt for exclusive first-person accounts began. Karen and husband Roger picked the Daily Mirror from the flood of offers. The Sun and its Sunday sister the News of the World had to settle for Gilbert and his mother.

Tabloid treatment: The Sun and News of the World published Gilbert's side of the story first, to spoil the impact of the Mirror's Humphries coverage. They were predictably sympathetic to Gilbert ('devastated' and 'duped' by Kelley) and salacious (details of how she pretended to be pregnant during sex). They also attacked the Mirror for ruining a local welcome-home party, thrown for Abbie by her neighbours, by spiriting the Humphries away for interviewing. The result of this rival set of interviews was four days and nearly 20 pages of the Humphries' story in the Mirror, billed as 'The Most Moving Story You Will Ever Read', told in minute detail from Karen's pregnancy on, to a relay of Mirror reporters. It included a counter-spoil: 'Karen was deeply upset by the front page picture (of Gilbert holding Abbie) in the News of the World.'

Did Humphries or Gilbert get paid? Oh yes. The Humphries got pounds 150,000; Leigh Gilbert pounds 60,000. Gilbert's mother was also reported to have been paid pounds 40,000 - although News of the World editor Piers Morgan denied this.

Consequences: The Mirror got a 1.2 per cent circulation increase for the four consecutive days it published Karen Humphries's story. There was a bonanza for columnists and media commentators, including an acrimonious battle over the question of payments between Morgan and Guardian columnist Joanna Coles. Watch out for years' more tabloid interest in the Humphries, the Gilberts and Julie Kelley. Kelley is likely to go to trial for abduction later this year.

COLIN STAGG: News of the World - pounds 50,000?

The story: In July 1992 a young mother, Rachel Nickell, was murdered on Wimbledon Common. After considering 548 suspects, police plumped for Colin Stagg, a 31-year-old bachelor from nearby Roehampton. An undercover policewoman engaged in a protracted sexual fantasy correspondence with Stagg, who seemed to match the psychological profile of the murderer. Finally, Stagg was arrested and imprisoned for 13 months awaiting trial. Ten days ago the case against him collapsed, when Mr Justice Ognall ruled that evidence from the undercover operation was 'a blatant attempt to incriminate a subject' by deception, and therefore inadmissible. Stagg was cleared and freed, and vowed to sell his account.

Saleable features: The demonised Stagg's side of the story; his explicit correspondence with the policewoman; the police's huge blunder; and, at the back of it all, the famous murder of a beautiful young woman, now unsolved.

How did it make the front page? Stagg left the Old Bailey surrounded by reporters and went to the Waldorf Hotel, where ITN had booked him a room as a temporary interview studio. While the tabloids depicted Stagg as a 'weirdo' with 'a sick mind', running page after page about his virginal loner's life and interest in paganism, his lawyers set about selling his story to one of them. The News of the World published it last Sunday.

Tabloid treatment: Two pages on a lie-detector test set up by the paper, 'proving he is NOT the killer of Rachel Nickell', interspersed with sympathetic quotes about Stagg as 'a lonely, shy and dysfunctional young man' - this from the sister paper of the Sun, which three days earlier had characterised him as 'a weirdo loner with a taste for perverted sex'. Stagg's first-person account followed, with assertions from the paper that the policewoman had been 'egging him on' in their correspondence, and that his fantasies were 'normal'. It also revealed that Stagg had lost his virginity since his acquittal and was 'beginning a new life' with a new girlfriend. (The Sunday Mirror, which didn't get Stagg's story, countered by finding experts to question the validity of the lie-detector test, and by putting together two pages on how the 'pervert Stagg' made the undercover policewoman's 'flesh creep'.) The next day, Today, another Murdoch paper which had been hostile to Stagg, did a Hello]-style spread on his reunion lunch with his mother.

Did Stagg get paid? Yes - pounds 50,000 according to the News of the World's rivals. Stagg told Today he would give away pounds 20,000 for information leading to the capture of Nickell's real murderer.

Consequences: On leaving court, Stagg said he would 'sue the pants off the police', with a claim for over pounds 200,000 for malicious prosecution. This, plus a police inquiry into how their investigation went wrong and the continuing mystery of Nickell's murder, should assure a battle between Stagg's tabloid friends and enemies for months, or years, to come.

JACKIE GREAVES: The Sun; Daily Mail - pounds 40,000

The story: A 51-year-old school secretary from Lancashire, Jackie Greaves, went climbing in the Cairngorms in February with two friends. Near the summit of 3,788ft Derry Cairngorm, the snow underfoot gave way, and they slid down the mountain into a deep gully. Her two companions were rescued in hours, but Greaves wasn't spotted, and had to survive two nights in temperatures down to -27C, much of the time on a ledge a foot wide. Thanks to good climbing equipment and 15 years' experience, she reached rescuers, walking through blizzards suffering from hunger, dehydration and frostbite.

Saleable features: Greaves's sheer endurance and heroism; her age; the ongoing controversy about mountaineering.

How did it make the front page? Greaves saw the journalists swarming as she flew into land at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness in a mountain rescue helicopter. They waited outside her ward overnight, pestering hospital staff to let them see her and trying to get in through the windows. Staff kept the blinds down and guarded her until, at 5am, their patience broke: they woke her to talk to reporters, hoping that they would then go away. Still shivering, and 'not feeling mentally right', Greaves signed contracts with the Sun and the Daily Mail, at random out of the dozens proffered. Nurses had to help her open the envelopes, because her fingers were still too clumsy with frostbite. The Sun offered pounds 40,000 if she would fly away in a private jet and give them an exclusive. Greaves refused, feeling too weak. The Sun and Mail reporters had to do their interviews in the hospital.

Tabloid treatment: First-person 'exclusives' in both papers. The Sun's featured a tie-in with frequent Sun collaborators, Guinness - thanks to a remark by Greaves, as she was getting into the rescue helicopter, about a liking for it. On the front page, a groggy Greaves sat surrounded by cans of stout in her hospital bed; inside, a Guinness advertisement sat alongside her interview. The Mail used the same first-person format, noting without irony - given how much it had paid Greaves - that 'the rescue operation was one of the biggest of recent times and is expected to cost more than pounds 150,000.' The Mirror, having lost out in the bidding, told its readers about a 'bizarre auction' in which 'Fleet Street newspapers tried to outbid each other for the exclusive story', whereas it had 'still managed to get to the real story without spending huge sums.'

Did Greaves get paid? Yes - pounds 20,000 from the Sun, a similar sum from the Mail, and a year's free Guinness.

Consequences: Anger at how much Greaves was paid; demands that she give the money to charity or the mountain rescue service itself. Criticism came from

legitimate sources (the people who'd rescued her), and less legitimate ones (the papers that didn't get her story). Reporters rang her to ask what she'd spent her cash on; she says she gave it to charity, but won't say which.

IAN HUDSON: The Sun; News of the World - pounds 5,000 - pounds 10,000?

The story: A landscape gardener from Winchester, Ian Hudson was suffering constant pain from a leg injured in a motorbike accident, despite endless operations. One night in June, after a row with his girlfriend and a couple of tequilas, he tied himself to the railway track, just north of town, put his injured leg on the line, moved the rest of his body carefully out of the way, and waited for a train. There had been a train strike, and he waited a long time. He fell asleep. Finally, a maintenance train came by and rolled over it, severing his leg at the knee. The shocked driver spotted him, and called an ambulance, which took him to Winchester's Royal Hampshire Hospital.

Saleable features: Grotesque ordeal; Hudson's bravery - and strange motivation; train strike angle.

How did it make the front page? Local paper the Southern Daily Echo got a tip-off from the hospital, and wrote a story. Regional news agency Solent News read an early edition of the Echo, interviewed Hudson's mother while he was incapacitated in hospital and phoned around the tabloid news desks. Hudson's mother fielded requests for her son's first-person account, decided on the Sun and hired solicitor Nicholas Bell to vet the contract. Hudson agreed to talk only to the Sun and the News Of The World for the next six months. The Sun interviewed him in hospital as soon as he could speak.

Tabloid treatment: Three pages on the first day, describing Hudson as 'fearless', with photographs of him in his hospital bed, being comforted by his girlfriend Mandy. A double-page spread the following day: of a bravely smiling Hudson 'making good progress' on crutches with the help - including a friendly-looking kiss - of one-legged model Heather Mills, famous last year for being run down by a police motorcyclist, and now a columnist on the Newcastle Journal. Mandy didn't appear on the second day.

Did Hudson get paid? He hasn't been yet - but local journalists quote a promised figure of pounds 5,000-pounds 10,000.

Consequences: Fame brought unwelcome attention to other areas of Hudson's life. A month later, the News of the World reported he'd got into a fight with a man he'd found with Mandy on returning from hospital ('Stumpy Thumped Over Lover's Rumpy Pumpy'). The police had been called. The News of the World also claimed to be shocked that Ian and Mandy had been about to split up, when they had 'appeared in newspaper articles, smiling and gazing lovingly into each other's eyes'. Now, it portrayed him as a selfish attention-seeker, with a chequered

local reputation, and transferred its sympathy to the train driver, who was still traumatised.

SAMANTHA PHILLIPS: Daily Mail - pounds 5,000?

The story: Insurance broker Samantha Phillips, was sacked from the prestigious Lloyd's-affiliated firm of Willis Corroon. She claimed wrongful dismissal on grounds of sexism and sexual harassment, took her case to a tribunal, and last month was awarded pounds 18,000 - although her boss, Giles Wilkinson, accused of making spurned advances on a business trip to Denmark, then organising a campaign of 'bimbo' slurs against her, was cleared.

Saleable features: Phillips herself - young, clever, pretty, blonde and posh; connection with secretive Establishment institution, already tarnished and in the news; sex.

How did it make the front page? During the case, the court was heaving with reporters. Phillips's victory smiles made broadsheet and tabloid front pages alike (unknown to reporters she was feeling less than triumphant; her father had died three days before the hearing and 'court meant nothing'). Reporters camped out at her home, but she went to stay at a friend's. Another friend fielded requests for interviews, playing one paper off against another by announcing offers that hadn't been made, until Phillips decided to talk to the Mail on Sunday - after she had their contract legally vetted - because she saw the paper as 'sympathetic to women', and she wanted to help others in the same position. The Mail put her up at the Conrad for three days, to keep her away from the other reporters, and interviewed her there for an afternoon. She was allowed to look at the story before publication.

Tabloid treatment: Big blonde photos of 'privately educated high-flier' Phillips; plus a long first-person account ('The first day in the office, I was taken to meet the executives and one said: 'You must be the new secretary.') under Phillips's byline. Quite tastefully done, with accompanying snaps of a teenage Phillips hugging her pony, and a suspiciously Daily Mail-style conclusion: 'Some will still see me as a trouble-maker, a rampant, campaigning feminist. . . That is the price I shall have to pay. . .' Her story was in fact written by a Mail reporter.

Did Phillips get paid? Yes - but she won't say how much, only that the Mail's wasn't the highest offer. Journalists who covered the case say pounds 5,000.

Consequences: Phillips' story spread into features about industrial tribunals as the new gender battleground ('She should be so lucky,' said the Sunday Times, setting a smiling photo of Phillips over tales of less 'fortunate' women.) But she wasn't delighted with the story: she has some journalistic experience, and in retrospect would prefer to have written it herself. Overall, however, 'it's been a very positive experience. It's created a lot of new openings for me, and got me respect at Lloyd's' She now runs an independent publishing company which puts out a Lloyd's insider's journal, Inside Eye.

STEPHAN GRANT: The Sun - Up to pounds 2,500?

The story: In April, a gang of three burglars decided to break into the pounds 750,000 house of Hove car dealer Stephan Grant. The first time, they damaged a door and gave up. Grant and his family got nervous. The second time, he spotted them in his garden, ran out of the house in his dressing gown, and chased them into their car. They drove off, but he jumped into his Seven Series BMW and went after them. He caught their Sierra 30 miles away outside Eastbourne after a 110 miles-per-hour chase, forced it off the road and bundled the burglars roughly (one needed 27 stitches) into his car while threatening them with a portable rocket launcher. A woman in a nearby nursing home saw the struggle, wrote down Grant's number plate and called the police. Grant drove off towards the local police station to hand over the burglars, but was stopped at a police roadblock and himself arrested.

Saleable features: Great chase story; Grant a clean-cut middle-class father and home-owner, and a laddish hero; vigilantes were (and are) in vogue.

How did it make the front page? The police tipped off the Brighton Evening Argus, who wrote an account while Grant was in custody. Local news agency John Connor Associates read the Argus story and phoned round the tabloids. As usual, they wanted pictures and an interview rather than the bare bones of the story; the news agency tracked Grant down when he was released on police bail by spotting his BMW outside his house. They knocked on his door, were invited in, and got 'the biggest story we've had this year'.

Tabloid treatment: Front page in the Sun, with 'AVENGER' in their biggest headline type and a 'You The Jury' phone-in on Grant's behaviour (justifying it, he said: 'I don't want to be a hero or a vigilante . . . I just want my family to be safe'); plus stories in all the others.

Did Grant get paid? The News of the World offered him pounds 2,500 for his story, but he said he didn't need the money and didn't like the paper. The news agency offered a smaller, undisclosed sum which he told them to give to the Royal Alexandra Hospital.

Consequences: Grant went on television a lot - with Anne and Nick, Vanessa Feltz, and Richard and Judy - and is still discussed in broadsheet think pieces. Charges of abduction against him have been dropped, but he faces prosecution for possessing a prohibited weapon (he says he was given the rocket launcher by a friend).

KEN KRUCK: News of the World; Daily Star - pounds 1,000

The story: At the start of May an unusual cluster of cases of necrotising fasciitis, a lethal disease which turns human tissue gangrenous in hours, notorious since the 18th century, was reported in Gloucestershire. News spread, and newspapers panicked: a frenzied search began to find surviving victims of this 'flesh-eating killer bug'. Ken Kruck, a 51-year-old retired British Airways worker from Hayes in Middlesex, had already lived through six operations to halt the spread of the disease, two years before the scare started; he was what the papers were looking for.

Saleable features: Kruck's horrific scars from amputations and 400 stitches - the first pictures of the effects of necrotising fasciitis; his terrifying description of the symptoms; his bravery and luck in surviving - thanks to surgeon Peter McDonald's chance sighting of Kruck's symptoms as he lay on a trolley amid baffled hospital staff, and his quick decision to start drastic surgery - while other victims were apparently dying all over the country.

How did it make the front page? Kruck kept a journal during his ordeal - to give himself something to live for. With the help of a ghost writer, he was turning it into a book, The Uninvited Guest, about the disease and his experiences when the scare started. A friend contacted the press for him, and journalists from the Star and the News of the World signed up, interviewed and photographed him at home. Kruck refused requests for eight different television interviews to avoid jeopardising his exclusive newspaper contracts. He couldn't even talk to his local paper until after the tabloid stories came out.

Tabloid treatment: Maximum scare from the Star: 'Ken Kruck's nightmare battle with the flesh-eating superbug began with a tickle in his throat. Within minutes, his body ballooned and the killer virus was devouring his body.' But a glimmer of hope from the 'walking miracle' Kruck as well. The News of the World countered with grisly photos of him pre-plastic surgery and an even grislier first-person account of his time in hospital.

Did Kruck get paid? Yes - around pounds 500 from each paper ('I had to look after myself'). The News of the World also included a plug for his book.

Consequences: Kruck went on New York chat shows, started training as a JP and playing golf again, and sent his manuscript to publishers. Some have written back to say it's too grotesque or out of date. He says he's appalled by British ignorance and inaction about the disease - Health Secretary Virginia Bottomley famously said that the outbreak was nothing out of the ordinary. He promises to give some of his book royalties to Mount Vernon Hospital in Rickmansworth, where some of his operations were performed.

SAMANTHA SLATER: Today - Flights worth pounds 2,000

The story: A 23-year-old model from Birmingham, Samantha Slater went travelling with her boyfriend to India, and was arrested with him in January for possessing just over a kilogram of cannabis. She said it had been planted on them by Indian dealers whose drugs they had refused to buy. The authorities in Kerala, a part of India with a druggy reputation that it is trying hard to eradicate, didn't believe them. They were convicted and jailed: Slater for 10 years without remission, her boyfriend for three. They are awaiting an appeal in October.

Saleable features: Latest in a string of tales about Western victims of harsh Eastern drug laws; Slater is young, pretty, white, and not the first girl from Birmingham to get into trouble like this; a chance to blame foreigners; opportunity for a newspaper campaign.

How did it make the front page? Slater's local paper, the Sutton Observer, did a story. Today picked up on it - editor Richard Stott's own daughter was travelling at the time. They flew over Slater's best friend and her mother, Brenda Barker, with a reporter and did interviews with Slater at the prison, Viyyur Central Jail in Kerala, a harsh 80-year-old institution built by the British for Indian criminals.

Tabloid treatment: A front-page photo of a gaunt Slater clutching the bars of her prison cell, and three pages of anguished copy ('It was meant to be a six-month trip of a lifetime, but it has become an eternity in hell') about her life there, sharing with 12 unfriendly women. Another two pages the next day, to 'examine the evidence against her' - which turned out to be Slater's account of her arrest, trial and longing for home. Her fate, said Today, was 'A Warning For Young People Everywhere'.

Did Slater get paid? No. But Today paid for the flights, which her mother couldn't afford. (Payment in kind is increasingly common, because it avoids the unsavoury connotations of stories for cash.) Barker said that she was reassured about Today's intentions precisely because they didn't wave a chequebook. She was able to read the story before publication.

Consequences: Barker 'loved' the story, went on GMTV, and fainted because she was so upset. Local MP Robin Corbett has written to the Foreign Office to ask for better treatment for Slater in prison, and to enquire about the possibility of an exchange of prisoners with the Indian government. He plans to have a parcel from home delivered to her while he's on an official visit to another part of India next week.

JAMES FLOREY: The Sun - pounds 1,000

The story: A Bracknell student, James Florey, went to Ladies' Day at Royal Ascot in June with some friends, drank a lot (six pints of lager, Bacardi, champagne, whisky and gin, reportedly), tried to get across the track to the VIP enclosure to meet all the rich women he'd seen there, and ran straight into the French racehorse Papago, a straggler in the 4.55pm, right in front of the Royal Box, where the Queen was in attendance.

Saleable features: Florey's dramatic - and seemingly fatal - collision was seen by millions on live TV; his behaviour was inexplicably stupid (actually, he thought all the horses had gone by); it chimed with the ongoing press flap about yobs and lager louts; it had a Royal angle.

How did it make the front page? A dazed Florey woke up in Wexham Park Hospital in Slough the next morning, to find that the Queen had phoned about his welfare. Two Sun reporters visited his bedside, waving a contract for exclusive rights to his first-person account. Bruised (in the neck, head, eye, arm and lip) and confused ('I didn't really know what was going on'), he signed. That afternoon, the reporters spirited him away to a hotel outside Heathrow for interviews, then to Windsor Castle to be photographed delivering a hand-written apology to the Queen. The whole package was in the Sun the next morning.

Tabloid treatment: Three pages, including his friends' reactions ('I'd been looking the other way at a bird's legs'), and a blow-by-blow account of their drinking, right alongside a free Guinness promotion. Plus a reprint of Florey's apology to the Queen ('I realise I had too much to drink and made a fool of myself . . . many apologies, your loyal servant . . .'), and a photograph of a battered Florey, wearing a borrowed-looking suit, handing it over to a

Royal official.

Did Florey get paid? Yes - pounds 1,000, a typical sum for this kind of front-page tabloid item. He had to wait two months for his money - about as long as a freelance journalist.

Consequences: A barrage of offers for more print stories and TV chat show appearances, all of which Florey refused, on the advice of a friend's stepfather who works for the Times. With hindsight, he says he wouldn't have sold his story: 'It's not right to make money from stunts . . . You don't really know what to do, so you just sign a contract to get rid of them.' Earlier this month, the Jockey Club banned him from racecourses for five years.

Presswise, an advice and support group for people harassed by the press, was recently set up by a number of victims. Their advice is: 'Don't sell your story, because your good faith and reputation are contaminated by the transaction.' They can be contacted at Unit 25, Easton Business Centre, Felix Road, Bristol BS5 0HE.

(Photographs omitted)