The crucifixion of Kate

Were the 'Cocaine Kate' stories motivated by a newspaper's desire for revenge? Why did the big fashion labels buckle under pressure? Tim Luckhurst reports

Time and again his informants failed to deliver and demanded more time or money. Moyes was beginning to think he had invested in fools. So he buzzed with excitement when one of his "snouts" approached him with photographic proof. Only his editor, Richard Wallace, was more delighted.

The mobile pictures that showed her "laying out chunky lines of cocaine" and "hoovering up the Class A drug" were sold to the Daily Mirror by a member of the entourage that sponges off Doherty. The Independent on Sunday has pieced together how it happened.

For Moss September should have been a month to savour. She was about to make history by becoming the first model to appear on the Vogue cover for the 10th time. She was pulling in $4m a year from lucrative modelling contracts

But the crucifixion of Kate Moss was about to begin. On 15 September behind the headline "High as a Kate" the newspaper splashed grainy photographs of Moss gorging on cocaine at a recording studio in west London. The story's allure was spectacular. This was one of the most recognisable faces in the world and she was taking prodigious amounts of drugs.

The results were catastrophic. The Swedish fashion giant H&M reacted to the Mirror's lurid reports by dropping her from its autumn campaign.

That decision, reached during crisis meetings between executives summoned to H&M's headquarters in Stockholm, provoked a domino effect in an industry known for its herd mentality. H&M's accountants justified abandoning the face of heroin-chic on the grounds that the firm has a history of fighting drug abuse. It was a surprising excuse as the company must have been aware of rumours about the model's reputation for adventure with sex and stimulants.

Last Thursday, stripped of contracts with the clothing companies Burberry and Chanel as well as H&M, Moss issued an agonised statement: "I want to apologise to all of the people I have let down because of my behaviour which has reflected badly on my family, friends, co-workers, business associates and others. I am trying to be positive, and the love and support I have received are invaluable."

The conspiracy version is that the Mirror was determined to get Moss after she won a libel case against its sister paper. In January the Sunday Mirror reported that she had collapsed in a "cocaine coma" at a 2001 charity show in Barcelona. This summer it admitted its story was untrue. Moss accepted undisclosed libel damages. Then, say rivals, the Mirror editor Richard Wallace demanded proof that Moss uses drugs.

Mirror insiders deny that. One explains: "This was about getting a big scoop." There was joy at the newspaper's offices in London's Canary Wharf when the pictures were first seen. The Mirror's top team "beamed with 100 per cent-proof rapture" when the images were opened on their picture editor's screen.

Insiders call the story "an old-fashioned tabloid exclusive" but admit Moyes was under pressure to get "golden dirt" from the crew of hangers-on around Doherty. Aided by a cash incentive, he succeeded. The editor of a leading fashion magazine is not surprised. "Everyone knew Kate used cocaine but when she hooked up with Pete it got crazy. Suing was a massive mistake. She invited them to prove it."

Some claim James Mullord, the former Babyshambles manager, took the photographs. But the Daily Mirror and sources close to Moss say he did not. A Mirror source reveals: "It was another member of the Babyshambles entourage. Pete Doherty was too out of it to notice - even when they started shooting pictures to destroy his only source of income." Others say Doherty's money problems - he has claimed to be £300,000 in debt - explain why one of his sycophants was prepared to infiltrate the recording session for the sole purpose of filming Moss taking drugs. Doherty was no longer able to pay his crew or supply them with narcotics.

The Mirror admits money changed hands. It was about £50,000. But there is no doubt that the usually cautious supermodel dropped her guard in precarious circumstances.

But what turned the exposure from embarrassment to catastrophe? In part it was the alacrity with which popular newspapers pounced on an old-fashioned scandal.

The London Evening Standard was first to follow the Mirror's exclusive with a story that focused on the model's responsibilities as mother to two-year-old Lila Grace, daughter of a relationship with Jefferson Hack, the magazine publisher. It reminded readers that Moss told a 1998 C4 documentary "I don't do any class A" before admitting "I've been doing too much partying" and spending six weeks in the Priory clinic.

Other attacks were personal. The Sun carried the words of a "close pall" who said drugs were a daily part of her life. But it was the Daily Mail that identified the issue that turned bad PR into a business disaster. It reported that H&M was considering "whether to abandon a multi-million-pound campaign starring 31-year-old Miss Moss".

The Mail quoted an H&M spokesman saying "We don't use anyone who has any involvement with drugs." But Moss apologised and signed a document promising a "healthy and wholesome" future lifestyle. As the threat to her career penetrated the New York hotel suite she was sharing with Doherty, H&M confirmed that "she has assured us it will not happen again and we are willing to give her a second chance".

That did not satisfy the newspapers. On 18 September the News of the World published the results of its own investigation, headlined "Cocaine Kate exposed: We uncover the truth about insane drug binges". They included the revelation that she once "sneaked off to use coke while sitting at the next table to Nelson Mandela".

It was open season and, in the Daily Mirror, the Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe demanded a prosecution and the Metropolitan Police chief, Sir Ian Blair, revised his initial opinion that the evidence was inadequate. There were false claims that social services were concerned about Lila Grace. Tony Parsons capped the lot. Comparing Moss and Doherty to Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, he concluded: "Kate and Pete have reached the tipping-point ... He is losing his mind. She is losing her looks."

Next came allegations of a lesbian romp with Sadie Frost and the former Hollyoaks star Davinia Taylor. That seemed calibrated to appal H&M, which aims at the teenage market and depends on parents to finance purchases. At the Daily Mail the former Cosmopolitan editor Marcelle D'Argy Smith focused on Moss's commercial interests. Calling the fashion houses that refused to sack Moss "greedy profiteers", she said. Do I think companies are cynical for not firing her? ... Of course." It was too much for the grey men at H&M. They withdrew support with a statement that said, "H&M will cancel the advertising campaign with model Kate Moss. H&M is strongly against drug abuse and has actively supported the drug-preventing organisation Mentor Foundation".

In the fashion industry's game of follow my leader, that turned Moss into a non-person. Within 24 hours Chanel announced that it would not renew her contract and Burberry cancelled a campaign. One day later the cosmetics giant Rimmel announced that it was reviewing her contract. But despite using its name to justify abandoning Moss, H&M did not consult the Mentor Foundation. Eric Carlin, Chief Executive of Mentor UK told The Independent on Sunday "They did not ask us. We believe that anyone who has problems with drugs needs help."

An H&M spokeswoman admitted: "We did not speak to Mentor." If it had been consulted, Mentor would have advised that Moss needed support, not condemnation.

It takes ruthless puritanism to view Moss as sole architect of her downfall. The Babyshambles hanger-on who took the pictures would have called the police if his objection to drugs were based on principle. H&M rejected the compassionate option of asking Moss to clean up her act. But it knows that cocaine use is rife among models. It helps to keep 31-year-old mothers like Kate Moss slim enough to look gorgeous in clothes designed for adolescents.

WIELDING THE KNIFE: THE PLAYERS

The boyfriend: Pete Doherty

Lead singer of the Babyshambles and Kate Moss's on-off boyfriend, is the target for tabloid interest over his drug-taking circle.

The editor: Richard Wallace

Paid reported £50,000 for the photos. Front-page 'Daily Mirror' headline, "High as a Kate", led to calls for her to be stripped of £4m modelling deals.

The politician: Ann Widdecombe MP

Tory MP, led a chorus of criticism, saying she should be prosecuted for her crime. Others said Moss needed treatment.

The policeman: Sir Ian Blair

The Met chief constable, reacted to pressure by announcing his officers would question Moss and Doherty this week.

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