Senior executives at the company which owns the Daily Mail have moved to distance themselves from the paper’s combative editor Paul Dacre as the row over its attack on Ed Miliband’s father Ralph intensified.
On Thursday the Mail on Sunday suspended two senior journalists after admitting a “terrible lapse of judgement” by sending a reporter to question guests at a private memorial service for Ed Miliband’s uncle. The intrusion prompted Mr Miliband to write to the Mail’s proprietor Lord Rothermere calling for an inquiry and accusing his papers of crossing “a line of common decency”. But The Independent understands that, while accepting that the reporter should never have been sent to the service, the paper’s editor Geordie Greig had been intending to run a supportive piece about Ralph Miliband to counter the “unpleasant” accusations in its sister paper.
“The irony about this is that Geordie was deeply uncomfortable about the stance that Paul Dacre had taken,” said one senior source. “He thought what they did was wrong, had gone too far and wanted to redress the balance.”
It is understood that the two suspended journalists are Amy Iggulden and Jo Knowsley. Members of staff said Mr Greig had not been made aware of plans to send a reporter to the service at Guy’s Hospital for Professor Harry Keen on Tuesday night.
Mr Greig was said to be furious when he was contacted by Labour demanding to know why one of his staff had intruded on the private event. But despite attempts in a phone call to mollify Mr Miliband, the Labour leader decided to use the intrusion to ramp up pressure on the Mail by writing to Lord Rothermere.
“My wider family, who are not in public life, feel understandably appalled and shocked that this can have happened,” he wrote. “Sending a reporter to my late uncle’s memorial crosses a line of common decency. I believe it a symptom of the culture and practices of both the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday.”
In a statement Mr Greig, who is also a director of Independent Print Limited, publisher of The Independent, said he wanted to “unreservedly apologise” for the intrusion. “The reporter was sent without my knowledge; it was a decision which was wrong,” he said. “Two journalists have been suspended and a full investigation is now being carried out. I would further like to apologise to members of the family and friends attending the service for this deplorable intrusion. I have already spoken personally to Ed Miliband and expressed my regret that such a terrible lapse of judgement should have taken place.”
The Press Complaints Commission Chairman Lord Hunt expressed “deep concern” over the Mail on Sunday’s attempts to speak to Mr Miliband’s relatives, while the regulator has had more than 700 formal complaints.
Sources in the Daily Mail Group said senior figures believed that Mr Dacre had “seriously miscalculated” his response to an article which dubbed Mr Miliband’s father as the “man who hated Britain”. Rather than simply allow Mr Miliband a right-to-reply, Mr Dacre ordered that the piece be reprinted alongside it – and ran an editorial describing his legacy as “evil”.
It led to attacks from across the political spectrum – and drew unwelcome attention to the Daily Mail’s own past as an enthusiastic supporter of fascism in the lead up to the Second World War.
Nick Clegg added to the pressure, accusing the Mail of “denigrating and vilifying modern Britain”. Mr Clegg himself has been a victim of attacks by the Mail – in particular a front page story which attacked his patriotism befsore the 2010 election.
Speaking on LBC radio, he said he rarely read the paper but added: “Every time I do open it, it seems to be overflowing with bile about modern Britain. They don’t like working mothers, they don’t like the BBC, they don’t like members of the royal family, they don’t like teachers, they don’t like the English football team. The list goes on – talk about kettles and pots. If anyone excels in denigrating and vilifying modern Britain it is the Daily Mail.”
Others went so far as to suggest that there might have been an element of anti-Semitism in the Mail’s attack. Writing in the Jewish Chronicle, the columnist Jonathan Freedland said: “When it comes to Jews, the Mail’s core accusations have a long and unhappy history. Jews have perennially been charged with disloyalty, even those Jews, like Miliband Snr, who have worn their country’s uniform and risked their lives in war.
“It is theoretically possible that the paper would have hurled similar abuse at an Anglican-born Marxist scholar, had his son gone on to become the Labour leader. But would it have accused such a man of hating Britain?”
A spokesman for Mr Miliband said he had received an apology from Lord Rothermere for the intrusion into the memorial service – but not for the treatment of his father.
“We continue to believe the issues needed to be addressed and until they do so many people will to continue to think that these newspapers do not uphold the values and the decency of the British people,” he said.
Professor Harry Keen, who died in April, was one of the medical pioneers who first helped identify and treat Type 2 diabetes.
He made his mark with the 1962 Bedford Survey, which attempted to discover how many people in Bedford had undiagnosed type 2 diabetes.
His team recruited hundreds of volunteers to distribute pots to every home in the town and asked every adult to fill a pot with some of their urine.
Remarkably, almost 70 per cent of them did, leading not only to the identification of 250 people with undiagnosed type 2 diabetes, but to the first definition of the pre-diabetic state, which he termed “borderline diabetes”.
He was married to Nan Miliband, sister of Ralph Miliband. She survives him.