Journalist Clive Goodman said Glenn Mulcaire was “well known for cracking impossible stories, often involving communications”. Another journalist, Nick Davies, called him “a brilliant blagger”. David Blunkett said he hoped Mulcaire would rot in hell.
Who was this man, who first appeared on the News of the World’s full-time payroll soon after Rebekah Brooks’s appointment as editor? Mulcaire ascribes to himself the name “Dr Evil”, in ironic reference to how little known and understood he believes himself to be.
He was born in September 1970 into the entrenched urban poor of west London. His father was an Irish refuse collector, whose morning round included the homes of Jonathan Aitken’s mother, Sir Francis Chichester and Her Majesty the Queen, and his mother, Eileen, a former professional ballroom dancer and window dresser who did more than anyone to imbue in him his Catholic faith. At the age of 11, his family suffered an irreparable sadness when his adored older brother Stephen was killed in a car crash, something to which Mulcaire refers frequently to this day.
He attended St Thomas More school near Sloane Square, where his form teacher Mrs Feeney wrote of the 13-year-old Glenn: “[He] is a well-mannered, responsible and caring member of my form. Totally reliable, he can carry out tasks honestly and efficiently. He participates fully in the classroom and represents the school at football and swimming. His work is satisfactory but more care is needed with presentation in all subjects. I believe that Glenn could do much better if he organised himself in a self-disciplined way.”
In modern parlance, there appears to have been something of “an ethic” to his teenage years, and he spent much of his free time working for the benefit of others. He worked for some time at the Chelsea Boys’ Club. A youth-club leader, Teus Young, identified leadership qualities in the young Mulcaire. He recalls: “He was excellent at interacting with young people, especially underprivileged kids. Some people just have that quality, and he showed it in organising, planning, helping them to work as a team, in offering one-to-one support. He was always a strong character, and a fantastic support to me in the boys’ club. Maybe it comes naturally in some people, but he certainly had it. He commands respect. Leadership came out of him. He was an excellent organiser and planner. I’m not saying he wasn’t a cheeky bugger, too, with lots of aggression and a strong tackler, but definitely bright.”
At the age of 17, he won a Community Sports Leaders Award for his work in local boys’ clubs. He applied to join the SAS 23rd Territorial Army regiment, but was selected for the 14th Duke of York, passing the entrance tests creditably. But there was a problem. He had been so anxious to sign up that he had lied on his application form, and had been found out when it was compared with his National Insurance documents. He was still only 17, and was rejected as too young, being told: “You are too young to die.” He had, however, impressed his examiners, who sought to steer him towards an area that best suited his abilities.
He was advised to visit another military person, who gave him direction as to how he might cater for his interest in other ways. He prefers not to elaborate on who exactly was advising him. He immersed himself in the world of intelligence gathering, doing a course in forensics, graphology, medicine, first aid and so on. It was at this point that he says he learnt the argot of “humint” (human intelligence, i.e. human sources), “elint” (electronic intelligence) and “comms” (communications). He tends to be evasive when the subject comes up nowadays. “I don’t want to sound like Johnny English,” he says, but it was clearly a world that absorbed him.
He spent some time working part-time at Harrods. He also earned money to pay for his courses by working as a youth worker and play leader at Park Walk School on the King’s Road.
Having acquired some proficiency in research techniques, he was asked to attend a job centre and give a reference number for a job advertising “investigators needed”. He attended a series of interviews in Hammersmith Chambers and was asked to start work the following Monday.
The company in question was WorldWide Investigations, a large intelligence-gathering company, and he describes his work as “tracing and tracking at corporate and criminal level”, plus a bit of credit work and due diligence. His work there also included research for two of its subsidiaries, Unitel and Argen. These companies worked discreetly and never talked about their clients. Mulcaire did a good deal of low-key sleuthing for the two subsidiaries, including equity searches and “paper trails”.
It was a world Mulcaire thrived in. Argen, having several spies on its payroll, was highly discreet and intelligence-oriented. And it taught Mulcaire to see the information derived from research as a good in itself. It was not the investigator’s job to question the client’s motives or lifestyle. A great deal of Argen’s work was for the government, and specifically for the Serious Fraud Office and MI5. In 1993, Mulcaire also started work for First Legal Financial Services, in Milner Street in Chelsea, and then, in 1995, for LRI Research and Intelligence.
This was to prove a crucial move in his career. The company was run by an investigator called John Boyall. From the basement office in Croydon of LRI, Boyall presided over a small team of data-gatherers. To the fore among these was a man called Andy Gadd. Mulcaire and Gadd did the bulk of the legwork in Boyall’s operation, and were used extensively by a variety of newspapers. Their work was largely formulaic, but they were reliable and discreet and gave no cause for discontent among their clients.
During the 1990s, the News of the World had also been using the services of Christine Hart. She was also a forceful and resourceful journalist, who brought a fresh eye to some of the more mundane work of the private investigator. Personally, she found little excitement in the routine unearthing of telephone numbers and company searches, and sought to bring a more creative – and possibly more empathetic – eye to the knottier issues that confronted her clients.
Greg Miskiw was an old-school News of the World news executive, veteran of many a sting. He had an insatiable hunger for new wheezes and methods of uncovering information, and found John Boyall – still in his late forties, but something of a senior figure in the world of private investigation – fascinating. “John Boyall used to be known as Goldfinger for his high living,” says Hart, who got to know Boyall extremely well. “Goldfinger was always on the lookout for new devices and ways of putting people under the spotlight. He was a real spy who had worked for [intelligence firm] Hakluyt and the big boys like G3. He had good MI6 contacts.”
Miskiw suggested that he, Boyall and Hart go out for dinner. Miskiw was agog at what Boyall had to say. “Greg used to enjoy the spy business and was impressed by John Boyall’s money – property in Aspen and skiing lifestyle paid for by his investigation work,” says Hart. Boyall impressed him hugely, and could see there was a vast amount his tradecraft could bring to the News of the World. The paper had been using an assortment of investigators, including Jonathan Rees, but it was clear that Boyall had a huge amount to offer. It was agreed that Boyall should sign up with the paper, although it was not going to be cheap.
The relationship worked well, initially at least. Greg Miskiw, royal editor Clive Goodman, Neville Thurlbeck, who was one of the paper’s most senior reporters, and others would all avail themselves of Boyall’s expertise, mostly put into practice by Mulcaire or Gadd. Miskiw found himself being increasingly taken with this young man Mulcaire. Although much of the tracing work was low-key and routine, Miskiw was impressed by Mulcaire’s ingenuity and obliging nature. Increasingly, Miskiw would go direct to Mulcaire and when Miskiw and Boyall fell out in late 2001, Miskiw was reluctant to sever the connection. Then Miskiw had an idea. Why pay Boyall’s high rates? Why not hire the man who had learnt so much from him for roughly half the price – and put him on an exclusive contract? So that is what he did.
But when the offer came to have “his own gig” with so celebrated an outfit as the News of the World, what could be better? Mulcaire was perfectly aware that as a private investigator he was a long way from being the finished article, but it was a brilliant opportunity. It also meant a more than doubling of his salary and it put him firmly on life’s escalator. “Generally, John Boyall always treated me personally pretty well,” recalls Mulcaire, who acknowledges that he was anxious to “get on” in life. (For some time after Boyall was frozen out of the News of the World, he pursued the paper for substantial unpaid bills. However, he was always confident that the matter could be resolved without needless publicity and, in the end, the paper’s management gave way and Boyall was paid.)
Mulcaire’s move was a big step for a man of barely 30. Some greybeards felt he had been promoted too fast. After all, he had no training in journalism, and he was unregistered as an investigator. They felt most of his work had been humdrum and routine. “Miskiw was delighted when he signed Mulcaire,” says Christine Hart. “He didn’t really care about people, although he had a thing about Glenn Mulcaire and what he could do for the paper. But Mulcaire was very green and Miskiw was using him. People in the investigation business regarded Mulcaire as just a tracer, and tracers are supposed to stay in the back room and not have clients of their own. Miskiw cynically took Mulcaire and told him not to flash his money around, for example, which made Mulcaire think he’d arrived in a world of mystique and mystery, but actually I thought it was just condescending to say that.” Under pressure to save money, Miskiw was doing just that while giving a young man, anxious to impress, his head. For that, Mulcaire owed him a great deal.
For Miskiw, Mulcaire was a useful in-house blagger, or tracer, of the sort that PI firms tend to have on call, who was willing to turn his hand to anything. As Christine Hart says of tracers, “they are usually young people or misfits and they are taught format lies to access different things. As far as Greg was concerned, Glenn was a tracer. But Greg rated Glenn because he could do everything, and most ‘blaggers’ can only do a few blags.”
Mulcaire regarded himself more as an investigator than some others did. He understood that he was to do a certain amount of low-level “blagging”, but also heavier, more in-depth investigations into serious crime, under a new unit run by Greg Miskiw. “When I started, I didn’t do much hacking,” he said. “I was never actually asked to hack a phone – it wasn’t much use, in that terrorists tend not to leave a voicemail message saying, ‘We’re putting the bomb at so-and-so.’”
Rebekah Brooks wanted the paper to be more campaigning, a frequent claim among prospective editors, but Brooks meant it. Some felt that Mulcaire was a boy being asked to do a man’s work and seemed to be the main beneficiary of the paper’s wish to cut costs. In any event, this was his great opportunity. He was considerably cheaper than working through Boyall, though he lacked Boyall’s experience and urbanity. Boyall, though, was displeased when he learnt that a man he had trained up had left him to work for the News of the World. One associate of Boyall remembers: “Boyall then told me he was his office boy, who he had trained up in bog-standard tracing. He was livid they had plucked out his boy and cut Boyall out of the equation to get the stuff he had trained him to do on the cheap.”
But Miskiw was delighted with his hire. He would coo happily about how adept Mulcaire was at triangulating and pinging, the technique of identifying somebody’s whereabouts through their mobile phone. And soon, a big project presented itself for Mulcaire to get his teeth into. Eight-year-old Sarah Payne disappeared on 1 July 2000 near the home of her paternal grandparents in West Sussex. It turned out she had been abducted by Roy Whiting, who had been convicted in 1995 of abduction and sexual assault and released having served only three-fifths of his four-year sentence, despite a psychiatrist’s fears that he would offend again. Whiting had been interviewed by the police the day after Sarah Payne had disappeared, but he was not charged until some weeks later.
Rebekah Brooks wanted to do more than echo her readers’ horror. She wanted to take a stand and get the law changed, to enable parents to know if a paedophile was living in their neighbourhood. It was a task that Mulcaire was delighted to take on.
Mulcaire looks back now with an almost painful sense of achievement. “I was so proud of joining that team. It had done great, really great work in exposing people who needed exposing. It was one of the biggest papers in the world, part of one of the most powerful newspaper groups in the world, and was standing up for decent people against corruption.” µ
‘The News Machine’, by James Hanning, with Glenn Mulcaire (Gibson Square, RRP £12.99), is published on 31 July. To buy it for £11.69 (free P&P), call 08430 600030 or go to independentbooksdirect.co.uk