I'm Glad 'Blagging' Has Resurfaced

11 Jul 2011 at 21:47

It’s good that Gordon Brown has spoken out and revealed that at least one newspaper, the Sunday Times, had tried to hack his bank account details and the medical records of his son, Fraser. It’s outrageous that anyone, let alone a much respected Sunday newspaper should sanction such dirty deeds. Should we be surprised, though? Hardly. Back on 12 December 2006 I wrote about an FOI request by my old friend Lord Ashcroft.

Those of you who have read Michael Ashcroft’s Dirty Politics, Dirty Times will know the lengths some newspapers go to to obtain information illegally. The News of the World Clive Goodman case is just the tip of a very sleazy iceberg. Lord Ashcroft has now gone a stage further in his endeavours to expose the sleazy operations of some journalists and publications and used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain even more startling information on this. Essentially, Ashcroft has uncovered via the Information Commissioner’s Office that 305 journalists used one specific agency in Hampshire to obtain illegal information from the Police National Computer, the DVLA and telephone companies. These 305 journalists worked for a total of 20 national newspapers (ie most of them) and 11 magazines. A staggering 58 worked for one newspaper, 50 for another, 45 for another and 33 for another. The laws of libel prevent me from speculating which newspapers they were, but you can probably guess just as well as I can. In total, 40 lines of enquiry were commissioned by journalists working for magazines, but half of these journalists worked for just one magazine. Read Lord Ashcroft’s full report HERE (it’s five pages long). Isn’t it strange that the original ICO report titled ‘What Price Privacy?’ received hardly any press coverage? I wonder why that was… Well if the newspapers won’t cover this new revelation I am sure Lord Ashcroft would encourage my fellow bloggers to…

Then, on my old blog, in September 2009 I wrote about blagging.

We knew, for instance that it wasn’t just the News of the World which was at it. Indeed, the Mail Group was the biggest miscreant – 58 journalists used blaggers on 952 occasions. But the Sunday Times, Observer, Telegraph and many others also used the services of the bugging agency. In the new updated edition of his book DIRTY POLITICS, DIRTY TIMES Michael Ashcroft reveals in colourful detail the lengths the Sunday Times went to to blag information from the Inland Revenue on his tax affairs. The chapter is too long to print here, but I’d encourage you to have a look at it, as it outlines in gory detail what a newspaper is prepared to do – outside the law – to gain private information. He makes a powerful case against Sunday Times journalist Nick Rufford. You can read the chapter HERE. Scroll forward to page 130 on the PDF or page 226 of the text. It’s only seven pages, but quite shocking. Perhaps the Select Committee should call Lord Ashcroft to give evidence as someone who has been on the receiving end of a ‘blagger’. Ashcroft employed a team of lawyers to get to the bottom of what happened. He was keen to take legal action against the Sunday Times. Of course, with his resources he could comtemplate such a thing. So could Gordon Taylor of the PFA. So can Max Clifford. So can John Prescott, and most of the other celebrities named. But imagine if this happened to you. Imagine if a ‘blagger’ got hold of your own details. Imagine if they accessed your voicemail and used it in some nefarious way. How would you gain redress? The truth is, of course, that legally it would be very difficult because our legal system in this area is stacked in favour of those with the resources to use it. It was ever thus, I suppose. Clearly, prosecuting authorities can only bring a case when they have enough evidence to do so. The Met and the CPS clearly didn’t feel at the time that they had enough evidence to prosecute anyone other than Clive Goodman. Yet we know that most national newspapers were involved in blagging to one degree or another, and we also know that many of their journalists were involved. The difficulty for the prosecuting authorities is presumably linking individual journalists to individual examples of illegal blagging. But it is in the public interest that the legal system, and parliamentary system is used to hold those responsible to account.

Blagging has to form a wider part of the judicial inquiry currently being set up. If the law needs strengthening so be it. Gordon Brown doesn’’t deserve what happened to him, but neither do ordinary members of the public.

If this causes the WHOLE of the newspaper industry to change its ways, so much the better.



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Welcome to Dale & Co

8 Jul 2011 at 21:51

Welcome to Dale & Co. When I stopped my old blog, Iain Dale’s Diary, I did it for several reasons, not least that I didn’t have time to update the site four or five times a day. But I already had it in mind to transform my blog into more of a group effort. Initially, I thought I’d get eight or ten friends to co-operate in a group blog, but as you will see from the Contributors page, it’s become rather bigger than that, and I now have more than 90 co-writers, some well known, some not. What they all have in common is that they have something to say and they are great writers. Many of them will be familiar to you as established, or lapsed bloggers. I had to laugh when I read a slightly quizzical article on the FT Westminster blog asking why anyone would want to read a site written by 60 contributors. Er, probably for the same reason that people read newspapers written by 60 journalists. Honestly.

This site will have no editorial slant. I’ll continue to give my views in the same way that I did before, but they will be balanced by the likes of Tom Harris, Jeremy Corbyn and Hazel Blears. Content wise, you’ll see from the header that we will be travelling far and wide, from world politics to sport, from policy to theatre reviews.

The Guardian, in their continuing quest to get things wrong, have written this site up as the UK’s answer to the Huffington Post. Well, it’s not. Seeing as the Huffington Post are launching here in the UK in a few days time it will be obvious to anyone that the two sites are very different in content, if not structure.

I gave my web designer the remit of producing an easy to use, easy to navigate site with a crisp, clean design. I think he has achieved that and more. We’re using Soho fonts, which are unusual, but give the typography a distinctive clarity and are very easy on the eye. We hope you like the design – it’s meant to be for ease of use on mobile device or iPad. I’m delighted with it. Especially since it works well on my Blackberry!

We have a dedicated server for this site, but any new server is by definition untested. We don’t know what the levels of traffic will be, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed that we have chosen wisely.

Just a word on comments. Part of my reasons for stopping blogging in December was the disgusting nature of some of the comments. The comments system on this site will be fairly rigorous. Everyone must register on the site using a real email address. You can use a pseudonym to comment but we will retain your email address on file. Once you have registered and had two comments manually approved, you will be free to comment unmoderated. If you transgress the basic rules of politeness once, you will be issued with a yellow card. If you do it again, you’ll be banned with no further explanation. There will be a system (not yet active) whereby readers can report a comment they feel should be deleted.

I have no lofty ambitions for this site beyond providing a platform for some great writers with some interesting views. I hope it will get some traction and attract a lot of readers. I’m deliberately keeping it relatively free of advertising for the moment until I know there is a real demand for what we are providing. If it works, great, if it doesn’t get the audience my previous blog did, then so be it.

The site is very much in Beta mode at the moment so if there’s the odd glitsch, bear with us. Lots of bells and whistles will be dded in the coming days and weeks. We’ll be bringing back the Daley Dozen, but it will be constantly updated through the day. All posts will be tweetable and synced with your Facebook account. We’ll have a twitter feed from all our contributors, and there will be a very smart gizmo on the front page enabling you to access the posts of the last twenty people who have written articles for the site. If you have any suggestions for new features, do let me know.

I keep being asked by journalists whether contributors to the site are being paid. Clearly as this is a personal initiative and not allied to a business, that is not the case, as I made clear from the beginning. However, I do want to make one thing apparent. If the site takes off and I commercialise it – a big if – I won’t do an Arianna Huffington on my writers! I intend to come up with an arrangement whereby if the site is ever sold, everyone who has contributed will benefit from the sale – ie receive money. As I say, I don’t want to spend a lot of money on lawyers drafting this until I am confident that we have built something which can really be commercialised. In the initial phase I am bearing all the costs myself (setup, hosting, Grant’s time etc) and I will always own at least 51% of the site, but I feel it is important that I make it clear from the beginning that I won’t shaft you our contributors in an Arriana-esque way. For those who don’t know, she sold the Huffington Post to Aol for $315 million and didn’t give her contributors a cent. Nice, eh?

If you have comments on the site and how you’d like to see it improved, feel free to let us know via the Contact page. Grant Tucker will be in charge of the site on a day to day basis and you can email him grant AT iaindale DOT com.

Above all, I hope you enjoy the journey we’re about to embark on. And if you don’t, I’m sure you will let me know!



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Gio: A Tribute

1 Jul 2011 at 21:52

Maybe it’s somehow fitting that this will be the last ever blogpost on this blog. It marks the end of two eras – the end of this blog, as in a few days time my new site, Dale & Co launches, and also the end of a life.

Five hours ago my beloved little Jack Russell, Gio, died. Those of you who have ever had the privilege of owning a dog will know what a devastating time this is for me and my family, who loved him with all our hearts. It is scant consolation to know that we gave him the best life a dog could possibly have, as a gaping hole has opened up in our lives, which can never, ever be filled.

Most Jack Russells are characters, and Gio was no exception. He was a cheeky little blighter and had us all wrapped around his little paws.

Gio was a Battersea dog. Back in early 1998 we went to Battersea, ostensibly to get a fully grown, house trained dog. We emerged with a six week old Jack Russell puppy who was so small that I could hold him in the palm of my hand. People often ask why we called him Gio? I wanted to call him Rio, after Rio Ferdinand, but that was vetoed by he who must obeyed. But I wear an aftershave called Aqua di Gio, and as I was shaving one morning I saw it on the shelf and thought to myself that Gio sounded enough like Rio, and it was just right for him. After that, my aftershave became known as Gio’s piss…

When I grew up we had always had Jack Russells so I knew what wonderful dogs they could be, but I had no idea this little mite would give us so much pleasure and become such an integral part of our lives. He was a dog that everyone loved. And Gio loved them back. Well, almost everyone. He didn’t care much for children, and let them know it in a typical Jack Russell kind of way – he would give them a nip. For some unfathomable reason he also didn’t like people on bicycles. If he saw someone riding a bike he would literally go mental.

During the first few years of Gio’s life, he would come to work with John and me at our Westminster bookshop, Politico’s. We barred him in behind the counter, but on several occasions he escaped and delighted running round the shop at full pelt, causing total havoc. The customers thought it was an absolute hoot.

In his early years Gio was a very fit and active dog. He loved going to the park and haring after a tennis ball I would throw. He never tired of it and would happily carry on for half an hour given half a chance. Sadly, this activity came to an end when one day he jumped off a sofa and damaged a knee ligament. Although we were still able to take him for walks, he wasn’t allowed to run at all, which meant that over time he became a bit of a porker. This proved to be a real problem as Gio was a terrible food thief. You’d give him his meal and ten minutes later he’d give you a look which said “Daddy, why are you starving me, give me some of your doughnut”. And believe me, he had this look which made you want to give in to his every demand. We didn’t, but felt very guilty for refusing him anything.

Back in 2005 Gio spent a morning with me on the general election campaign trail in Cromer. We bought him a union jack coat. But sadly even Gio’s charms couldn’t rescue me from an inglorious defeat at the hands of Norman Lamb.

Gio was a dog that liked his routine. At 2pm precisely he would sit by the dog chew draw. At 10pm he would demand his nightly rich tea biscuit and slurp of cranberry juice. On his nightly walk he would go so far and no further. And like all Jack Russells, a walk in his view was less about exercise and more about having a good old sniff.

But over the last year there had been a clear decline in the little scamp’s health. He developed a slight heart problem and seemed to pant too much. We were warned by the vet that he might not be long for this world. But he was a doughty fighter and bounced back again. But just before I went to Australia it became clear that he was struggling. I dreaded going away for three weeks with the thought in the back of my mind that I might not see him again. My partner John and I chatted on Skype video twice a day and I made him show me Gio each time, just so that I could be reassured he was still alive. I know John dreaded having to tell me he had died while I was away.

Whenever I go away the one thing that keeps me going is the thought of the welcome Gio will give me when I get home. Ad that was my abiding thought as I flew back from Australia the Sunday before last. But instead of being delighted to see me when I walked though the door, and instead of giving my face a good licking, he just looked at me to say “Oh, youre back then.” And then he wandered into the kitchen. I was gutted. And I knew then that something was seriously wrong. He had also clearly lost a lot of weight. He’d come to my sofa for “a love” – and just stare u at me into my eyes, as if to say “Daddy, what’s wrong with me, please put it right”. That look never failed to bring a tear to my eye.

Anyway, the vet then diagnosed diabetes. We were told he’d need an insulin injection every day. But then a minor miracle happened. An hour after the first injection he was back to his old self. He was eating properly, full of life, tail erect, being cheeky, keen to go on his walk, and everything seemed right with the world. But it wasn’t to last.

I got home from my radio show on Friday night to find that a few minutes before I got there he had had what we thought was a hypoglycaemic attack. He had fitted. We got the vet out to see him, hoping beyond hope that he would be able to fix him. Instead he delivered the devastating news that Gio was unlikely to make it through the night. It appeared he had had a stroke. He wasn’t in pain, but the sadness in his eyes told its own story. As the hours wore on, his breathing got gradually weaker, and at 5.30am he passed away.

Our lives will never be the same. He meant everything to us. If you haven’t had a dog in your life you cannot comprehend the gaping void that can ever be filled. Someone said the best thing to do it get another dog immediately. I just couldn’t. It would feel like betraying his memory.

As I complete this tribute to the best friend I am ever going to have, it is scant consolation to know in my heart that we gave Gio the best life a dog could ever have. Maybe one day we’ll feel ready to try to do the same for another rescue dog. But there will never be another Gio.



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