Stephen Glover: Even the saintliest of journalists are not above using outside help

Nearly three weeks ago The Guardian filled many pages, and the BBC used up much airtime, with allegations about the News Of The World. The paper had discovered that the Sunday red-top had paid more than £1m to three people after hacking into their mobile phones.

Though these payments certainly constituted news, the former eavesdropping techniques of the News Of The World were already known, as I pointed out in this column. The red-top was one of many newspapers which engaged private investigators to obtain private information. Andy Coulson, the paper's editor when these practices came to light, was forced to resign two-and-a-half years ago, and Clive Goodman, its royal editor, was sent to prison for six months.

Nevertheless, The Guardian, aided and abetted by the BBC, presented the story as an entirely new scandal, and placed itself on the moral high ground, where it loves to be. Its editor, Alan Rusbridger, and the story's main author, Nick Davies, appeared in front of the Commons culture committee, and implicated another News Of The World journalist, Neville Thurlbeck, in the hacking, though without supplying what I would describe as compelling evidence.

Now it emerges that The Guardian has itself on at least one occasion employed what it describes as a "business intelligence company" - and what we might call a private investigator - to obtain information about a multi-national company. The paper had no intention of committing any illegal act, and I for one would heartily support what it did as good journalism. All the same, its use of private investigators may cast its high-minded criticisms of the News Of The World in a somewhat different light.

There is a fascinating aspect to this story: the role of The Sunday Times, a sister paper of the News Of The World. On Friday 10 July, two days after The Guardian's opening salvo, The Sunday Times's ace investigative reporter David Leppard was preparing a piece

about The Guardian's use of a private investigator. He had learnt that in 1999 Mr Rusbridger contacted a company to look at allegations of criminal behaviour by the American multi-national Monsanto, whose plans for growing genetically-modified crops his paper had frequently questioned.

Mr Leppard believed he had something more: the imputation of illegality. A shadowy accomplice with whom he had worked on previous stories, and who is apparently familiar with illegal surveillance methods employed by private investigators, told him they had been used in the case of The Guardian and Monsanto. This person alleged that a third party hired by the "business intelligence company" had hacked into Monsanto's emails and phones - in the manner of private investigators used by the News Of The World.

Apart from the satisfaction of striking back at The Guardian, Mr Leppard may have had a further interest in pursuing this story. He is the arch-enemy of The Guardian's Nick Davies, who criticised his working methods in Flat Earth News, billed as an exposé of the dark side of the Press. On the evening of Friday 10 July, Mr Leppard spoke at least once on the telephone to Mr Rusbridger, and they had a heated exchange. Mr Rusbridger wholly denied the imputation of illegality and, according to a source, telephoned the paper's editor John Witherow. No story about this matter appeared in The Sunday Times on 12 July.

Mr Rusbridger was nonetheless shaken enough by Mr Leppard's accusations to contact Hamilton McMillan, who had been a director of the "business intelligence company" used in 1999. Mr McMillan retorted that "The Sunday Times allegations are false. The information they supplied to me to support these allegation was also patently invented."

The Guardian has passed on his denials to me, while maintaining that its enquiries revealed nothing untoward about Monsanto. Incidentally, I should add that Mr Leppard refused to speak to me. Ace investigative reporter he may be, but he is as nervous as a three-legged kitten when on the receiving end of questions.

So where does this leave us? There is no evidence that illegal methods were used on behalf of The Guardian by a third party investigating Monsanto. But that does not seem to me the most interesting point. The fact is that, if you employ outside agencies to obtain information, you cannot maintain control over the methods they use. Once you dip a toe into that murky world, you are no longer in charge of the process. If I had, like Mr Rusbridger, employed a private investigator, I do not think I would have so readily got on my high horse in relation to News Of The World.

As I say, I have no problem whatsoever with a newspaper digging about in the affairs of a controversial company such as Monsanto. Mr Rusbridger was once something of a campaigner against "Frankenstein foods", and even wrote a two-part drama for the BBC on the subject with the author Ronan Bennett.

What gets my goat is Mr Rusbridger's holier-than-thou aura, his sense that he somehow occupies a higher and better universe than the rest of us. We are all journalists and he, like the grubbiest reporter on the News Of The World, was not above engaging the services of a private investigator.





Mr Justice Eady was also loser in Desmond's ill-fated action



When a journalist is sued by a press baron, my sympathies are with the former. One's instinct is to root for David versus Goliath. Mr Justice Eady, however, appears to have a different cast of mind. Of course, I would never accuse any High Court judge of bias, but it did seem that in the libel action brought by Richard Desmond, the proprietor of Express Newspapers, against Tom Bower, a lone author and journalist, which ended last Thursday, the judge was inclined to favour the tycoon.

It is difficult to believe he did so out of any admiration for Mr Desmond. Mr Justice Eady appears to be governed by process, and his desire to observe every jot and tittle of what he regards as proper procedure. Much evidence concerning Mr Desmond's character was deemed inadmissible, in particular a remark made to one Jafar Omid, a fund manager. The press tycoon is said to have threatened Mr Omid by saying: "I am the worst f***ing enemy you'll ever have."

Ronald Thwaites, Mr Bower's impressive QC, had to go to the Court of Appeal to get this evidence admitted. Lord Justice Hooper said there was a danger of a miscarriage of justice if it were not. In his summing up, Mr Justice Eady also withheld information about a Toronto bank which was germane to the case. Had the jury not found in favour of Mr Bower, Mr Thwaites would have used this omission as grounds for appeal.

These apparent weaknesses on the part of Mr Justice Eady are noteworthy given that he is one of two High Court judges who preside in cases involving the media, and has single-handedly - and controversially - extended rights of privacy under the Human Rights Act.

One case does not ruin a judge, but the conduct of this case has not strengthened the reputation of Mr Justice Eady.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
tech
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
fashion
News
news
News
people
Travel
Warner Bros released a mock-up of what the new Central Perk will look like
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Senior Account Executive / Account Executive

£25 - 30k (DOE) + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: We are looking for an Accoun...

Account Manager / Sales Account Manager / Recruitment Account Manager

£25k Basic (DOE) – (£30k year 1 OTE) : Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright A...

Resourcer / Junior Recruiter

£15-20k (DOE) + Benefits / Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright R...

Web Designer / Digital Designer

£25 - 40k (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Web Desig...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments