If Piers didn’t know about phone hacking (as he claims) then
he wasn’t doing his job as editor

The seemingly never-ending saga of phone hacking has prompted two of our industry’s most combative former editors to froth at their well-fed mouths. Piers Morgan, after Mr Justice Fancourt found for Prince Harry against Mirror Group, now part of the appalling Reach plc, insisted he had never hacked a phone or ordered that one should be hacked.


What he was careful NOT to say was that he had no knowledge during his editorship of staff and freelancers getting stories via hacking on Harry and others. And frankly, if he didn’t then he wasn’t doing his job. And if he was so ignorant (for which read innocent) then how come, while they were at a lunch together, he was able to tell Jeremy Paxman how hacking of a mobile was done?


I know who I believe.

Then we have the strange case of Paul Dacre’s rant in The Spectator, mostly against Harry but encompassing the BBC (natch.) The opening paragraph is pure Dacre, though there are no C words so maybe he had to notch it down a few decibels:


‘Truly, Harry, who is engaged in a preposterous legal contretemps with the Mail, is his mother’s son. While the prince is filling his boots by turning his self-pity into an industry, his mother, I would argue, invented the art of victimhood – that insidious, debilitating and very modern malaise.’


I was lucky to have left the Express in 1995 when mobiles were in their infancy and phone hacking was an evil yet to come. In other words there was no decision or intervention to be made though I did occasionally approve payments to police, not then illegal, for excellent exclusive information. Indeed my neighbour at the time was a senior forensics man with the Met and he was the recipient of cases of Barolo  for two stories which made the splash. There was also a retainer at the highest level in the Royal Household who was paid in cash for exclusive stories about his employer.


But there can be no doubt that phone hacking is wrong. And just because the chief pursuers of the Press are the likes of Steve Coogan and Hugh Grant, it doesn’t justify it. It is illegal and is no substitute for reporters going undercover to get great stories as the Sunday Times does so well. It takes a lot longer and is more expensive but the results are worth it.


However much Paul Dacre rants, there’s a lot more to come to this scandal and it involves the Mail titles. Watch out, time for hard hats and an onslaught of C words from the top floor of Derry Street!


 Much has been written of Jeffrey Archer’s decision to make this year’s shepherd’s pie and Bollinger Christmas party his last. Leaving aside the unsuitable marriage of the two main ingredients, let us look at the host himself; a braggard, proven liar and a man with no self awareness. But in one respect I take my hat off to him.


In the late ‘90s I asked him to be the auctioneer at a charity event at the Dorchester. I called him and he invited me round to his Thames-side penthouse. And I got the old routine: ‘Take the lift to the top floor, turn left at the Picasso and right at the Matisse.’


A date was agreed for a Friday evening and I was genuinely grateful because he said he would be hot-footing it straight from the Grosvenor House where he was doing another auction. Come the day and I ensured he would be on my table, strategically next to the most attractive single woman in the room.


He arrived only slightly late and as we sat down to dinner it was clear he was not in his usual irritatingly ebullient form. Nonetheless, he was as always a brilliant auctioneer raising much needed funds for the Miracles charity. And with that he was off.


When Sunday morning arrived the reason for the very un-Archer mood of Friday night was clear. That same Friday afternoon a small deputation from the NoW visited the penthouse to tell him that they were running on Sunday the proof that he had indeed lied about Monica Coughlan for which he trousered £1 million in libel damages from the Star and the scalp of our friend Lloyd Turner.


The result, months later, was his perjury trial and four years imprisonment. No wonder he was a bit taciturn that night...


To the Chapel Royal of the Tower of London for a glorious carol service in aid of Street Child, this year’s Times and Sunday Times Christmas charity. It was founded in 2008 by Tom Dannatt and I became a trustee a few years later. From little acorns operating only in Sierra Leone to help get kids into education and reunite them, where possible, with their families, Street Child now has a vital presence in 21 countries including Ukraine. In those 15 years more than one million children have been helped, half of them directly supported into education.


Dannatt is an inspirational leader from an inspirational family. But throughout the service my thoughts were of all those places mentioned in the readings and carols (Judea, Bethlehem, Royal David’s City) but now the epicentre of sheer savagery from two forces which will never settle for peace: the bestial Hamas and the appalling Netanyahu. 


The chapel of St Pater ad Vincula is as good a place as any for thoughts about dreadful violence; three executed queens and two saints are buried there, a reminder of this country’s murderous monarchs from the past.


And so to wishing my brilliant editor and his millions of loyal readers (will that do Bingo?) a Happy Christmas and New Year. You will forgive me if I fail to extend my good wishes to the following: the lying Baroness Bra and her fat husband, Cruella, the aforementioned combatants in the Middle East and that ugly little Essex wideboy Mark Francois, so-called chairman of the ERG. Oh and Russell Brand. And for good measure, the intransigent Jeffrey Donaldson.


22 December 2023