Andy McSmith's Diary: Long arm of the law leaves another journalist hacked off


Behind the good intentions of the Hacked Off campaign and others who want to protect the innocent from the appalling behaviour of some journalists, there was always the risk that in their zeal they would create an atmosphere in which any shyster threatened with exposure can cry that their privacy is being invaded.

Anyone who doubts that should heed the case of Neelam Desai, who is due to be sentenced this month at Croydon Crown Court after admitting fraud. After her case came up, the Croydon Advertiser started to hear stories that did not form part of the court hearing, from people who believed they too had been fleeced by Ms Desai. A man from Leicester became obsessed with a woman calling herself Nisha Patel, with whom he made contact through a marriage site. Nisha Patel was a name Neelam Desai admitted in court to using. Though he never met “Patel”, the victim agreed to pay for an expensive holiday for two, and ended up parting with £35,000. The money was paid to N Desai, who “Patel” said was her travel agent. The mobile phone number “Nisha Patel” used was traced to Neelam Desai’s home address.

Having heard this tale, the Advertiser’s chief reporter, Gareth Davies did the right thing, which was to approach Neelam Desai for a comment. He knocked on her door. She shut it in his face. He tried to speak to her through the letter-box. She called the police. Later, he sent emails inviting her response to allegations that the paper was thinking of publishing.

Now the extraordinary part. On Monday, three Metropolitan Police officers turned up at the Croydon Advertiser’s offices to deliver Davies a “Prevention of Harassment Letter”. It informed him that Neelam Desai “does not wish to be contacted or written about by Mr Davies” – no surprise there – and warned in block capitals: “Harassment is a criminal offence.”

Davies told the UK Press Gazette that he protested to officers that he was doing his job, to which one retorted: “That’s what the News of the World said, and look what happened to that.”

Still crazy about the Krays

A bizarre feature of our time is the enduring fascination with 1960s criminals. It was the era when the smart set discovered the working class, and a photographer of the stature of David Bailey set out to immortalise those low-grade London gangsters, Ronnie and Reggie Kray.

They were unpleasant thugs, yet they continue to fascinate. In May, Gorringes auction house in Lewes, which normally specialises in antiques and fine art, will be selling love letters and other items that once belonged to Frances Kray, née Shea, who made the mistake of falling for and marrying Reggie Kray, and who committed suicide in 1967. Undoubtedly, someone will pay hundreds of pounds for these macabre mementoes.

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