WILL THE HACKING SCANDAL BRING DOWN THE DAILY MAIL?

JONATHAN COAD

This interview is part of a series, which asks if newspapers have become Above the Law.

Read & watch further expert views & testimony from the campaign’s homepage.

Jonathan Coad, a senior media lawyer with over 30 years of experience in the field, describes the claims now being brought against Associated Newspapers as “seismic”.  “What is even more extraordinary is that one claimant is Baroness Lawrence”.

Following the murder of her son Stephen Lawrence in 1993, The Daily Mail put those accused on the front pages and pursued a line of coverage on the case that helped to raise its profile and garner sympathy. As a result, Baroness Lawrence actually became an ally of Associated Newspapers. 

The allegations against Associated Newspapers are “immense”, according to Jonathan.

The developments could also have further ramifications for the senior individuals at News UK, who back in 2012, denied any knowledge of hacking at their papers at the Leveson Inquiry.

Jonathan said, “Of all the newspaper groups that I have fought, the nastiest opponent is Associated Newspapers,” 

Coad pointed to, what he described as, “the cruellest behaviour towards particularly women clients of all the Fleet Street titles on the part of Association Newspapers.” 

He explained how the Mail had threatened to publish a story on an actress. 

Here he shares her story using the pseudonym Grace.  

He said Grace had been “horribly” stalked in a way that included physical violence, an attempted abduction and threats on her life – so running this story was likely to lead to further harm and distress.

The story itself was obtained through underhand means; Grace was approached by a male journalist, who is now a senior journalist at the Mail, who gave her the impression that she was being courted romantically. She gave him her story off the record only to be called and told that her story was going to be published. 

Jonathan says he had never seen anyone so frightened, “this person who had stalked her, had also threatened her life and the life of her family. This person had slashed her tyre, broken down her door and was found putting her unconscious body into the back of his car. 

“There was very good reason to believe that if this story were to be published her physical safety would be threatened,” he said. 

Despite speaking with senior lawyers at the paper, he says he was “completely unable to persuade them to drop the story.” The situation became so desperate that Coad allowed Grace to speak with a managing editor, with the hope that this might persuade them. Grace explained the threats to her life and that she had fair reason to believe this person may attempt to kill her, if the story were to run. She also told them that she had previously fled to a retreat in India when the situation became too dangerous. And in response, a managing editor at the Mail suggested that Grace flee the country so they could run the story.

Ultimately the story was pulled, but Coad said: “the way they conducted that litigation was the worst I have ever seen and I’ve seen some really rough litigation.”

Jonathan says these cases are important because they highlight that these publishers ‘wield immense power over us.’ 

“They have an almost limitless ability to mislead us about the environment, politics, consumer issues, you name it, anything that is important to us.

Also about the character of important people in our lives,” he said. 

Ultimately, an independent press regulator should hold media power to account. In 2012, Leveson made proposals and recommendations for the implementation of this. 

But in the last ten years, not a single Fleet Street publication has agreed to be regulated by a Leveson compliant regulator. The Guardian, The Independent and The Financial Times all have vague internal regulation policies and the rest are regulated by IPSO – which operates in the same building, with the same staff as the disgraced PCC and a rebranded PCC editors code of practice.

Tell your MP that newspapers shouldn’t be above the law.

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