Ukrainian by descent, British by birth and Scottish by absorption, Greg Miskiw, who has died aged 71, was the very epitome of the hard-living, hard-drinking Fleet Street journalist who, for more than a quarter of a century, was a significant presence on the British journalistic scene. An imposing and totally driven figure, when at the hub of news gathering for News International he was famously dubbed “the Prince of Darkness”.
As he himself later admitted, his objective was simple: “Just get the story... just get it. No matter what, no matter how. That is what was expected of you.” Having brought private investigator Glenn Mulcaire to the News of the World, Miskiw himself would come under intense scrutiny, eventually joining other former colleagues in the dock on multiple phone-hacking charges. Not for the first time, he found himself on the receiving end of a custodial sentence.
Born in Leeds, Ihor Miskiw, universally known as Greg, was the only son of Ukrainian Catholic immigrants who had met in England after the Second World War. His father, having escaped the Russian invasion, had joined the Ukrainian faction of the German army on the promise that they would fight the communists and not the allies. His mother began working on a labour farm in Germany when she was 14.
Badly scarred by their experiences, the couple gave their son little affection growing up. The only family member to show him any real warmth was an elderly aunt. Educated at St Matthew’s School and Park lane Sixth Form College, Miskiw successfully completed a 12-month journalism course at Highbury College in Portsmouth.
Beginning his career as a reporter at the Wolverhampton Express and Star, he then joined the Birmingham Mail before moving to London’s Evening News. Never able to let go of a story once he had caught its scent, he quickly began to demonstrate the dogged determination that so characterised his subsequent career. Nothing was more important to him than getting an exclusive. One such was an interview with the Prince of Wales, on an unannounced visit to Brixton to discuss stop-and-search powers with local teenagers.
This won him a job at the Sunday Mirror in 1979. In December 1982, while hiding in the mail van of an overnight train, he travelled to Poland, which was under martial law at the time. He was arrested for visa offences and held for a month in Rakowiecka Prison, and was eventually given a suspended jail sentence and fined 70,000 zlotys.
After working his way up within the Mirror Group, Miskiw joined the News of the World in 1987. Sharing the news desk were Ian Edmondson and Alexander Marunchak, the second being a fellow newshound with Ukrainian roots. Known as “the rottweilers”, Miskiw and Marunchak ran a lucrative sideline importing vodka. Junior reporters newly arrived in the newsroom would be invited to buy a bottle. Refusal was not considered a smart move.
Marunchak and Miskiw would often converse in their native tongue when discussing stories they did not want anyone else to know about. Only Edmondson dared call Miskiw by his real name, Ihor. Miskiw also maintained close links with reporter Mazher Mahmood, otherwise known as the “Fake Sheikh”, who was renowned for publishing celebrity stings. Another contributor was Terenia Taras, later to become Miskiw’s partner and the mother of his son.
Becoming well known for cracking seemingly impossible stories, often involving communications, Miskiw initially used an assortment of investigators including Jonathan Rees and Christine Hart. He later began to employ the talented but expensive John Boxall. Working for Boxall was a young man whose talents greatly impressed Miskiw – Glenn Mulcaire. When Boxall and Miskiw fell out in late 2001, to cut costs Miskiw decided to replace Boxall as his in-house blagger with Mulcaire.
Because he was hugely adept at triangulating, or pinging – a technique usually used by the police – Mulcaire could pinpoint somebody’s whereabouts through their mobile phone. When Rebekah Wade – later Rebekah Brooks – was appointed as the News of the World’s editor, she immediately brought Miskiw back to London from the US, where he had been running the newspaper’s American desk, to head up a new unit.
Under the editorship of Wade and then Andy Coulson, it seemed that the News of the World team could do no wrong. They were flying high and thought themselves untouchable: total masters of the tabloid universe. With Brooks wanting the paper to do far more campaigning, a big project soon presented itself for both Mulcaire and Miskiw to be involved with. Eight-year-old Sarah Payne disappeared on 1 July 2000 from West Sussex. It eventually turned out that she had been abducted by Roy Whiting, who had been convicted in 1995 of abduction and sexual assault but had been released after serving only two years and five months of his four-year sentence, despite a psychiatrist’s fears that he would offend again. At the time, the newspaper took a strong lead in campaigning for parents to be told if a paedophile was living in their neighbourhood.
For many years Miskiw’s activities seemingly escaped the attention of the law, until in 2003 an employment tribunal branded his actions “cavalier and irresponsible”. Peter Bone, the newspaper’s highly experienced crime reporter, suddenly resigned when the News of the World, in the guise of Miskiw, reneged on a £45,000 deal, supposedly shared with the Mail on Sunday, for an interview with the 14-year-old witness known as Bromley in the Damilola Taylor trial.
Six years later, in 2009, a parliamentary committee was shown a document in which Miskiw had offered Mulcaire a £7,000 bonus if he could obtain information to help with a story about Gordon Taylor, Head of the Professional Footballers’ Association. Taylor later received a £700,000 pay-off from the newspaper after they admitted that his phone had been hacked.
After years of increasingly frenzied speculation, it was the revelation that the phone of the murdered 13-year-old schoolgirl Milly Dowler had been hacked that brought about the closure of the News of the World in 2011. Miskiw had left the newspaper six years earlier. After a brief stint at a northwest news agency, he had then settled in the Delray Beach area of East Florida, working for the tabloid paper Globe.
On returning to England in August 2011, he was arrested and bailed as part of Operation Weeting, and was subsequently charged with corruption and conspiracy to intercept communications. After pleading guilty at the Old Bailey in 2014, he was sentenced to six months in jail. He served 37 days in Belmarsh prison before being released early for good behaviour.
Twice married, he is survived by his mother, a son and a daughter.
Ihor Miskiw, journalist, born 6 December 1949, died 25 September 2021
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