'NoW' hacker had beans to spill and a crust to earn

Peter Burden defends Glenn Mulcaire, the recluse at the centre of a media spat
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The Independent Online

Tap "Glenn Mulcaire" into Google and you find a blotchy YouTube clip of a young man scoring the first ever goal for AFC Wimbledon, a spectacular 20-yard volley that has gone down in the club's folklore. Every other link takes you to stories of the News of the World phone-tapping scandal, for which Mulcaire, then a private investigator, and the paper's royal editor Clive Goodman went to prison.

Little is known about Mulcaire, although I learned a lot about him during the 18 months I spent researching a book on the News of the World. He has been portrayed as a shady figure plying his dodgy trade from an anonymous south London office. Certainly, because his evidence to the police is at the centre of the Director of Public Prosecution's re-examination of phone hacking allegations, he would top many journalists' list of most-wanted interviews. At most, it is said, what he knows could have a bearing on several careers, among them the Tories' communications chief Andy Coulson.

But my experience of Mulcaire is that, despite an unenviable current predicament, he is a decent, hard-working man trying to support a wife, mortgage and five children. By the time he emerged from HMP Belmarsh he was, I believe, determined to return to the solid values with which he'd grown up. Born to a no-nonsense mother from the North-east and a volatile Irish father, a dustman, Mulcaire was raised in a council tower block in Chelsea's World's End. Quickwitted and fast-footed, he knew he wanted to live beyond the constraints of his background. From an early age he had an inquiring mind, and recognised the value of knowledge, and ways of acquiring it. Hoping to find his way into the national intelligence services, he applied to join a branch of the special forces but was rejected as too young.

Mulcaire had been a youth footballer with Fulham, and throughout his twenties he played for non-league teams before retiring through injury. After his football career, he started working for a private intelligence-gathering company, establishing the whereabouts or identity of individuals for business purposes. It wasn't MI5 but it was legitimate. By his mid-twenties, he'd shown himself outstanding in all the relevant specialised skills.

Once he had done some work for the News of the World, the paper recognised his exceptional ability, and in 2003, at the age of 33, he was urged to set up his own outfit and work under contract exclusively for the paper. He began to gather intelligence for the paper full-time, using every means yet devised, including binology (rifling through dustbins).

Soon there was very little he couldn't discover and the paper began to rely heavily on him, his fees rising commensurately. But pressure from the paper and its journalists was mounting, and he was constantly being pushed into acquiring information that none of their rivals could get.

My understanding is Mulcaire was persuaded that collecting messages left, and already accessed, was comparable to picking up discarded letters in someone's bin on the street. He was apprehensive about accessing the voicemails of celebrities and members of the royal household, but he was reassured, at worst, it was a legal grey area. Mulcaire wasn't on the staff and worked under short contracts, a precarious state many freelancers will recognise.

When he and Goodman started listening to new messages which hadn't yet been picked up by the intended recipients, it was inevitable that sooner or later they'd be caught. Because he was receiving his bonus for this job in cash, paid directly through Goodman, there is no paper trail back to the office. But at the very least, NoW executives could have been more vigilant in scrutinising these payments. In normal circumstances Stuart Kuttner, the NoW's chief money man, for example, would have been aware of the £500 that was signed off every week for 25 weeks to an unknown person called "Alexander" (Mulcaire).

Two years ago, Mulcaire was arrested in an armed dawn raid by Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist squad. He pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity, and was sentenced to six months, of which he served three.

I didn't know him before he went inside, but I'm sure it changed him. Intelligent and ambitious, he was determined to come out stronger. He has enrolled on a law degree course, and is also specialising in employment law (as well he might) as a sideline. In refusing to return to even the legal side of his former occupation, he has suffered substantial financial hardship. Although it has been reported (and not denied) that he received a £200,000 pay-off from News International in return for signing a non-disclosure agreement, that sum would barely have covered his legal costs.

But anyone hoping he might be wanting to spill some beans should not hold their breath. He is still living under the shadow of possible civil actions from those who may claim damages for his breach of their privacy, as PFA chairman Gordon Taylor did. So, for now, Glenn Mulcaire is saying nothing.

Peter Burden is the author of 'News of the world? Fake Sheikhs and Royal Trappings'. www.peterburden.net

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