Watch out Desmond, Benji the Binman is still after you

After helping defeat the Express, Pell tells Matthew Bell he's determined to get his man

When Tom Bower emerged from Court 13 on Thursday, he thanked members of the jury for "doing a great service to British journalism". Their rejection of Richard Desmond's libel case against him had ended the most fraught episode in his career as an unauthorised biographer of the rich and powerful.

But if it was a triumph for Bower it was doubly so for Benjamin Pell, or "Benji the binman" – the man once famous for fishing sensational stories out of bins. For him, the verdict struck a blow against his two greatest enemies, Express newspapers and Mr Justice Eady. Every day of the nine-day trial, Pell's eccentric, lanky figure could be seen in the back row of the public gallery, scribbling frantically. "I own the back row," he tells me jubilantly after the case. "Court 13 is not Eady's domain, it's my domain. I hope Eady is terrified of me. He should be."

For seven years, Pell has been monitoring Mr Justice Eady, sitting in on all his cases and forensically monitoring every judgment. Last week, three senior judges unanimously condemned Eady's decision to disallow certain evidence in the trial, a decision that was overruled in the Court of Appeal and described as "plainly wrong".

It's not the first time Mr Justice Eady has come under fire, although usually the criticism comes from journalists who say he is using his court to introduce a privacy law by the back door.

Pell's own judgement of the man is less than favourable. "He is dangerous and this trial proves what he is like. In an ideal world, he should resign. But we're stuck with him until 2017 when he retires."

One lawyer close to the case says the judge simply has a strong belief in the right to privacy. "If you are a judge, your world view will inevitably have some bearing on your judgments. Conceptually, Mr Justice Eady believes in privacy."

Since giving up his bin raids in 2001, Pell has dedicated himself to media law, spending every day at the Royal Courts of Justice. According to one lawyer, he is so well-versed in the intricacies of defamation law he often knows more than the lawyers and judges. Thin, ashen-faced and with a slight stoop, the 46-year-old could be an illustration of the Dickens character Krook, Bleak House's hoarder of legal documents who dies of spontaneous combustion. As he speaks, Pell can get so excited he looks as if he could explode at any minute.

But for all his idiosyncrasies, Pell is highly intelligent and could have had an illustrious career had he not flunked his exams after blowing £70,000 on a horse in the Derby the day before his finals in 1986. He eventually took a third class law degree from University College London and founded a cleaning company. But it was a large bag of confidential letters outside the bins of London estate agents EA Shaw that set him off on a more lucrative line, selling stories to papers.

For years, he would go out at night, dressed as a binman to fish through the rubbish of top law firms and talent agencies. He was rewarded with some big stories, notably those about Elton John's cash problems and Jonathan Aitken's misdemeanours. He was in constant demand from Sunday newspapers which would pay huge sums for his findings.

"I did my last bin raid in February 2001 because I was involved in [TV presenter] Jill Dando's murder case, and I had to go to the Old Bailey every day" he says, "I'm a completely different animal now."

If he was once invaluable to newspaper editors, he still remains useful. According to Pell, he encouraged Bower's defence team to appeal against Mr Justice Eady's decision to exclude a recording of a phone call between Desmond and Jafar Omid, the boss of the Pentagon hedge fund. Had the recording not been played – in which Desmond tells Omid he would be "the worst fucking enemy you will ever have" – the jury might well have found differently.

Pell's anger towards Express newspapers dates to 2002, when the Sunday Express ran a story accusing him of giving the IRA the names of Bloody Sunday soldiers. He was challenged by two reporters from the newspaper outside his synagogue on the Saturday before publication, and has been banned from it ever since. He sued and was paid £125,000 in an out-of-court settlement but is still fighting the paper's refusal to disclose evidence which he believes shows there was a conspiracy at the paper against him.

"I've been waiting for this litigation for the past two years. I've known that this is key. I want now to take proceedings against Desmond. I want to be reinstated to my synagogue and I want an apology."

Those who know Pell describe him as "extremely moral, according to his principles". He continues to live in Hendon with his parents and has no income except a £10 a week allowance from his father. He is described by one lawyer as "a brilliant outsider" who can afford to offend judges and barristers.

But one day, says Pell, he would like to become a lawyer. "I want to be snapped up by a big firm. I want them to say 'Benjamin rather than working against us, come and work for us.'"

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Account Executive / Account Manager

£18 - 20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Executive / Account Manager is ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Social Media Account Writers

£12000 - £13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This social media management pr...

Ashdown Group: Deputy Editor (Magazine Publishing) - Wimbledon - £23-26K

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Deputy Editor - Wimbledon...

Ashdown Group: Editor (Magazines/Publishing) - Wimbledon - £26-30K

£26000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Editor (Magazines/Publish...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones