“They didn’t care that our wellbeing was at stake… the paper just attacked” – How the Mail on Sunday smeared a World Record-holding charity fundraiser & decorated veteran

  • I watched despairingly as my husband lost the career he loved

  • But together we found a new purpose, broke a World Record, and raised nearly a million pounds for charity

  • Instead of a great experience for us both, we were crushed by cruel and untrue reports in the Mail on Sunday, and hatred on social media

  • Our marriage came under strain, my mental health suffered and I had a miscarriage

  • Today we are fully vindicated, and I want to tell my story

By Alana Stott

For 16 years my husband Dean served with distinction in the Army, the last five in the elite Special Boat Service. He did tours in the Middle East, the Balkans, and Africa. Then one evening in 2010, in the course of a parachute training exercise, his leg got caught in the rigging line as he jumped. The line ripped his leg horribly. The pain was so excruciating that as he descended he was vomiting and in and out of consciousness, and he was lucky to survive the landing. The injuries ended the career he loved.

In the civilian world, Dean struggled to find a purpose. One of the things that had attracted me to him was his incredibly kind heart – he was always looking to help others and in particular his fellow soldiers – but now he was the one suffering and adrift. He needed a challenge.

Cycling helped with his injury and as a soldier, he had always been super-fit, so we had the idea that he should take on a cycling challenge, and not just any cycling challenge but the Pan American Highway – 14,000 miles from Argentina to Alaska. It was wildly ambitious but we talked to friends who knew Dean’s character, and they encouraged us.

Prince Harry

One of those friends was Prince Harry. Harry and Dean met on an Army training course 14 years ago and have remained good friends ever since. Harry was just then setting up the mental health campaign Heads Together and he asked if Dean would consider using the cycling challenge to support the new campaign. Dean was delighted to agree.

I had just had our second child and I was thrilled to see Dean focused and happy again as we set about planning the adventure. It was daunting creating social media accounts and launching the fundraising campaign, but after we issued a promotional video with Prince Harry we were inundated with offers of support.

The challenge went brilliantly in almost every way. Dean completed his amazing feat in May 2018, breaking two world records and becoming the first man in history to cycle the Pan American Highway in under 100 days. By then we had already raised more than £500,000 for Heads Together and were well on our way to the million.

A very skinny and happy Dean returned home in May 2018, in time for us to attend the wedding of Harry and Meghan. Then, on the morning of the wedding, I received a text message telling me Dean had been unfaithful. I didn’t know the number and when I called back the line was dead.

It wasn’t the first incident of this kind, though it was the worst up to that time. I had dreaded telling Dean that while he had been cycling a hate campaign had been waged against us. This was another part of it.

The support team for the challenge had been assembled quickly and when things got underway there were some sharp differences of approach and opinion. Dean and I took the view that it was our idea and our challenge, so some people were shown the door. I hoped that would be the end of it, but it wasn’t.

Hate campaign

Anonymous accounts on social media began attacking us, making false accusations. Family, friends, and colleagues received poison-pen letters saying amazingly cruel things. Supporters and potential donors were warned off. Everything was done to disrupt the challenge.

So when I got that text message on the royal wedding day, I immediately knew what was behind it. But I thought that, with the challenge done and Dean home, the worst was over. How wrong I was.

The attacks continued and that November things suddenly escalated when a reporter from the Mail on Sunday rang to ask for comments on claims that Dean had cheated on the bike ride, breaking the rules set by Guinness World of Records. I felt sick, though I knew it wasn’t true: the Guinness people had monitored Dean’s entire journey and all the data were recorded and approved as required.

The reporter followed up with an email alleging that Dean had broken Guinness rules by using two different bikes. I knew the rules: parts such as wheels could be replaced fairly freely, but the bike frame could only be changed if it was damaged and the replacement was identical. Dean had traveled with a replacement frame of the permitted kind, but as it happened he never needed to use it.

I sent the reporter the guidelines and the formal confirmation from Guinness World of Records that Dean’s entire ride was within their rules. The Mail on Sunday published its story anyway: ‘Prince Harry’s Special Forces friend “cheated” on world record’.

Even though we had supplied proof that this was false, they ran with it. It was true that there had been disputes in the team, but instead of focusing on Dean’s huge achievement and all the money raised for charity, the paper presented the whole story as if there was only one side to it and we were entirely in the wrong, burying our response in two short paragraphs at the very end.

Looking back, I can see what happened. The Mail on Sunday hates Harry and Meghan and it saw the campaign against us as a way of getting at the royal couple. They didn’t care that money for charity was at stake, or that our wellbeing was at stake. They didn’t care that we had provided proof we had done nothing wrong. The paper just attacked.

Immediate impact

The impact was immediate. Every way we turned we were required to justify ourselves and explain that the Mail on Sunday was wrong. Even family members began doubting us. The hate campaign on social media intensified and the journalist who wrote the article joined in.

Our sponsors stepped back. Previously keen to support Dean on his next charity challenge, they said they didn’t want to make themselves a target for press attacks.

Dean was devastated. My daughter was picked on at school, with people calling her daddy a cheat. My mental health deteriorated. And it was at this time that we lost what would have been our third child.

We were still working hard to reach our objective of a million pounds from the bike ride but that was getting harder and harder and when we hit £900,000 we decided to stop, to protect our family.

The first £500,000 had been donated to Heads Together very publicly, announced in an article in Hello! magazine. Given the campaign of lies and hate against us, however, we chose to transfer the remaining amount without any fanfare.

This only stoked the fires. The haters on social media began to suggest we had kept the money and they targeted the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR), demanding we be investigated.

So it was that in June 2019 we received an email from OSCR saying that due to the high level of interest and a number of complaints from unnamed sources, they were opening an inquiry.

Another attack by the Mail on Sunday

The Mail on Sunday now struck again, with suspicious speed. The very next day, even before the OSCR inquiry had been publicly announced, we received an email from the same journalist saying he was running an article about misappropriation of funds and that we were under investigation by the regulator.

We explained it was an inquiry and not a conviction and said we were more than happy for OSCR to review our accounts because we could prove we had done nothing wrong, but of course it didn’t make any difference. The Mail on Sunday published its story: ‘Special Forces friend of Prince Harry probed over claims of financial irregularity after world record-breaking ride that raised £500,000 for charity’.

Again Harry in the headline. Our lives were collateral damage in this paper’s campaign against the prince and his wife. And this time it was even worse for us because the paper was insinuating we had stolen money from a charity.

(Incidentally, this was the same reporter whose name later appeared above a ‘baseless, false and defamatory article about Harry for which the Mail on Sunday had to apologise and pay damages.)

As before, we knew that the truth was on our side. Our charity accounts had been thoroughly audited more than once, so we could show we hadn’t stolen any money, misused expenses, or pocketed the £400,000. As for the cheating allegations, which were raked up again, we had the Guinness people do a second check of the records which confirmed we acted within guidelines.

But our voice was no match for a national tabloid and the Mail on Sunday’s claims about us not only remained readily available to anyone who googled our names but they also continued to be repeated widely on social media.

The pressure was horrendous and again my mental health suffered. An eating disorder from the past resurfaced, I couldn’t sleep and I was now being treated for depression. Worse still, Dean and I were arguing on a regular basis. We were both in so much pain and we didn’t know how to resolve it.

Everything depended on the OSCR. Only when they cleared us of the allegations, as we were sure they must, would we be able to clear the air. This was brought home to us when Dean’s book was released and media people told us they would not promote it while the inquiry was ongoing. But when would that happen?

We waited 18 months. The OSCR inquiry was finally completed last December. Not one allegation of financial misconduct was upheld and we were actually praised for raising so much money as a new charity. The only qualification in the verdict was that we were given new management guidelines to help us in the future.

This was vindication in the face of all the online smears and Mail on Sunday attacks. They were proved wrong.

Did the paper report this? Of course not.

Appalling experience

It has been an appalling experience and I would not wish it on anyone. All along I have listened to people I thought wiser and more experienced who said it was better not to fight back, that if we did it would only make things worse.

I don’t think that way now. I have changed. I now understand that I was intimidated while the public was misled.

I have seen what others have been through – for example, Meghan Markle, and Caroline Flack – and it is vile and cruel.

It has nothing whatever to do with that ‘freedom of the press’ we keep hearing about.

They lie, they distort, they bully and they exploit social media to do their dirtiest work.

The only answer, I now believe, is to fight back, to show people what these papers do – and what they are prepared to do to anyone, no matter how innocent. We must all speak up. Only that way can we put an end to this abuse of power.


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46 Comments

Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Chris Hawkesreply
May 7, 2021 at 11:03 am

That’s shocking. But sadly, not surprising given the Mail’s record.

Sheffaneese Knightreply
May 7, 2021 at 12:46 pm

Sorry for your experience Alana. Glad you and your family have overcome and that your friendship with Meg and Harry remain. You are one brave and strong one. You and your family will always be in my prayers. Reading your story is so eerily familiar to what I witness Meghan especially go true it is creepy but don’t worry, there is a just reward coming for those whose main aim is to destroy lives.

carol johnreply
May 7, 2021 at 2:36 pm

Dear Alana, I am shocked and outraged to hear what happened to you and the impact that the disgusting actions of the Daily Mail had on your whole family. Let’s be clear, these were absolutely acts of violence. I would say that the DM need to be taken to court for what they did, as the Duchess of Sussex has done. However, the emotional cost to your family may be too great. How social media is being allowed to be weaponised in this way against people says so much about the moral bankruptcy of the country. Thank you to Hacked Off for being a forum to expose these journalistic abuses and I will be making a donation. Something needs to be done to change these spaces because they enable the lowest most basest parts of human nature and they are dangerous.

Mary Dwyerreply
May 7, 2021 at 3:02 pm

The Daily Mail is a vile rag.

Vincent Greenreply
May 7, 2021 at 3:09 pm

Some of our press are utterly despicable. They are supposed to publish the facts, the truth but too many are driven by their unfounded personal prejudices and money.

jamesreply
May 7, 2021 at 3:12 pm

another reason why I and many thousands don’t buy newspapers any more. They are liars and cheats

Nell Foxreply
May 7, 2021 at 3:29 pm

The daily fail is a contemptible, vile rag with no relevance to the truth or accurate reporting of news. It peddles salacious, mostly entirely inaccurate gossip and rumour. What is most alarming is that thousands read it, and BELIEVE what they read. They take it as truth, simply because it is in a newspaper and they assume a newspaper would never lie. It is about time the fail, and other publications in the same genre, were held accountable for their actions.

jacqui butterworthreply
May 7, 2021 at 3:36 pm

I think it was to do with the fact that they were friends on Harry and Meghan and they really should sue the Daily Mail

Jonathan Coulterreply
May 7, 2021 at 3:40 pm

This is a wonderful account that shows how the press can monster ordinary people and make their life a misery, just as it can pick on high profile people like Prince Harry, Jeremy Corbyn and others. We owe it to ourselves and to others to fight back against this horror. We should not appease these crooked people and institutions, or they will just come back for more. Solidarity should be our watchword.

tony wilsonreply
May 7, 2021 at 3:42 pm

The Mail has always been associated with fascism, supremacy and hate. Fight them all the way.

Ruth Kosminskyreply
May 7, 2021 at 3:48 pm

Unbelievably heartbreaking and nasty.
By what right do these self-importance God-given two-bit journalists have? Do these muckrakers truly believe that they can write whatever they feel like regardless of the intense pain; they can and will inflict on anybody they feel like just because they want to?
Not once did I hear the Reporter state that he had 100% facts to back up his claims. Or did he offer to show them to an independent person of principle or integrity?
One day. Karma will inflict anger on many people who feel it’s their natural right to bully, to hurt. Meanwhile, boycott the Newspapers that they work for. Even a jester-like that will send a clear message to them.

Margaret Forrestreply
May 7, 2021 at 3:50 pm

Disgraceful. I will never buy the Sunday Mail again. Something should be done to stop things like this harming peoples lives.

philipreply
May 7, 2021 at 4:11 pm

I am disgusted than you should have suffered so much at the hands of what is clearly a rag rather than a newpaper. I think that all natonal newspapers should be moitored so that prejudices rather than news are banned. Sadly, the kind of people who buy the Mail are not the kind of people wo would question anything they read and the Mail is aware of this.

M. Kupinreply
May 7, 2021 at 4:14 pm

Well said! I think that everyone must fight back if they are put in a similar situation. Otherwise, the press will continue to get away with this. Surely, there must be a way to reprimand and set laws in motion to prevent the press from being able to ruin people’s lives like this.

Kevin McGrathreply
May 7, 2021 at 4:22 pm

Remember the time when this sort of behaviour was set to be outlawed by Leveson. Then Cameron broke his promise and his chums in the Tory press were left to continue their scum tactics. Well the Tories have just won big again, with their faithful press spreading poison 24/7, 365 days a year about Labour. Anyone who thinks that we live in an actual democracy must be a sandwich short of a picnic!

Ianreply
May 7, 2021 at 4:45 pm

It’s always about the money – profit and power, absolute power to control and kill at will. Imagine the massive ego of such people, the IPCC (just like regulators of every powerful industry) remains largely toothless. It’s good news at least there is some better media management now.

Paul Atkinreply
May 7, 2021 at 5:06 pm

Are you going to sue?

Hugh Edwardsreply
May 7, 2021 at 5:07 pm

The government & the right wing press are by their falsehoods are pandering to the the prejudices of the public. This has echoes of 1930’s Germany and Italy. Their actions do not bode well for this country & if we let them get away with this-well make your own mind up but try not to be biased.

Cherry Lavellreply
May 7, 2021 at 5:10 pm

Disgusting behaviour by the Mail on Sunday. In a just society they would be shut down forthwith.

Joan Fryerreply
May 7, 2021 at 5:53 pm

As Alana said “They didn’t care that our wellbeing was at stake – no they wouldn’t because the Mail on Sunday represents the gutter press – the more hurt they cause increases their profits; what does it say about the proprietors? The right-wing gutter press is the reason after 11 years of Tory governments, the UK is now regarded as a ‘Rogue State’. Two professions which Boris Johnson has succeeded in are journalism and politics – he has been a prolific liar in both and been promoted. He is proud of breaking international law. And who does the Mail on Sunday represent – why of course the Tory ‘nasty’ part,y. I have just watched Sarah Vine being slammed on Andrew Neil’s show for her obnoxious criticism of a politician’s wife which she is very proud of – that sums up her and her husband who is of the same ilk.

Richard Hofmanreply
May 7, 2021 at 6:02 pm

People nowadays, no matter where they sit if at a newspaper or anywhere else they are not Gods with a patent for common sense and once they start to abuse their power then huge damage may be done! Poor these young decent guys, been abused by a newspaper.

John B Nightingalereply
May 7, 2021 at 6:18 pm

Very sorry to hear of what has happened. Is it worth suing the newspaper concerned?

Robreply
May 7, 2021 at 6:58 pm

So can’t the Mail be prosecuted for libel?

Phil Sheppardreply
May 7, 2021 at 7:50 pm

I think part of the answer to this is to occupy the ‘adults in the room’ space. In the above case, for me this would mean (a) not reading all the stuff, but having the main accusations reported to me succintly by a trusted advocate; (b) publishing periodic statements setting out the truth, rather than responding to each article or accusation and thereby following their agenda; the statements would also highlight the weaknesses of the accusations as a legitimate case in terms of the junk quality of evidence; (c) terminating all phone calls immediately, except where recording them would be an advantage; (d) taking the paper(s) to court on a no-win-no-fee basis.

Rosereply
May 7, 2021 at 9:01 pm

I was quite shocked to hear Alana’s story about the Mail on Sunday. I thought that the Leveson Report would have been acted upon by now, but nothing seems to have happened as yet. How many more sickening stories do we have to read before any action is taken? The newspaper should be ashamed of itself for trying to destroy this lovely couple in order to get back at Prince Harry and Meghan. Don’t worry Alana, what goes around comes around, and these nasty people will get their desserts in due course. Best of luck to you all.

Graham Sarbuttreply
May 7, 2021 at 10:35 pm

The Mail, Sun and Express are despicable rags, they are a disgrace to our Country. They have an agenda to perpetuate their extreme views and will use any tactics to deceive the public into believing anyone who dares to oppose their stance are unpatriotic, extreme lefties even criminals!! Unfortunately the current establishment are extremely supportive of this attitude as witnessed by their reaction to those of their own ilk who are brave enough to question their actions!

Cathreply
May 8, 2021 at 7:41 am

I am so very sorry that you and Dean have been put through such a demoralising, distressing and very personal attacks by the heinous Mail on Sunday. To read your story makes me weep but also very angry. To think they used you to get at Prince Harry is a truly shameful act. You have both shown strength and fortitude in the handling of this completely abhorrent deformation of your selfless characters.
You have now come through this together, perhaps learnt who to trust and who not and never to trust any media who lie to get at people they dislike. You are honest to the core and I’m pleased the inspection has vindicated you both in every way.
Thank you for telling your story just as it was. You are both amazing people, to have come through this together and to move on with your lives, with your heads held high. Well done.

Sally Lairdreply
May 8, 2021 at 9:38 am

I am so sorry to read your story Alana, I gave up reading the Mail a long time ago, but it’s still hard to believe that they get away with such disgraceful reporting. The only way to stop them is not to buy the papers. Well done for raising all that money and fighting back.

Len Mastermanreply
May 8, 2021 at 10:11 am

So sorry to hear about all of the abuse you have suffered at the hands of scum journalists and an unscrupulous paper. Thanks for your bravery. You are an exceptional woman. Incidentally I was unable to read your story via the e mail from Hacked off, or reply to that e mail. Seems, ironically, that it may have been hacked to prevent you from telling your story. I had to go directly to the HackedOff website to read it.

Lady Footreply
May 8, 2021 at 10:17 am

Alana: Thanks for telling your truth. I am at a loss for words that all this has happened to you and your lovely family and that wretched paper and the reporter are still “standing”. Although you have been vindicated somewhat, I pray it is not too late for the Mail on Sunday et al to be held accountable through the courts. I realize not everyone has a deep pocket to take on the Mail on Sunday but from here in Canada, I sure would make a donation, if a Go Fund Me were initiated to assist you and Dean with your legal fees against the newspaper. Keep on fighting the fight of faith, you’re already a winner.

Chris Johnsonreply
May 8, 2021 at 10:32 am

This is all a result of the Leveson Inquiry being ditched in a cowardly act by a prominent former Prime Minister, who has also hardly covered himself in glory in recent days. He also could be remembered by the history books as the man who began the break-up of the United Kingdom.

ettareply
May 8, 2021 at 12:07 pm

SUE!

J.J Popereply
May 8, 2021 at 1:24 pm

I am terribly sorry they’ve been so evil towards you, Scott, and your family. Your support of your good friends is what brought you to my orbit, unfortunately I didn’t know they had come after you until recently. For what it’s worth, know you have a lot of people in your corner. And I agree, fighting back en mass is the best way forward. These outlets look like Goliath after terrorizing so many. But it doesn’t mean we can’t take them on.
We can. We should. We shall.

Pip Rylandreply
May 8, 2021 at 1:29 pm

Working in the army to do your job in protecting the UK and sometimes World peace is often a thankless job. I expect most soldiers accept that.
But the mental anguish caused by trolls and newspapers generation false stories against you is NOT to be expected or accepted!
Surely the army itself should be sueing the Mail? Dean should not be left naked in legal process against the power of editors.

Tony Steinreply
May 8, 2021 at 4:17 pm

Journalists wield great power but with that comes great responsibility. Making baseless claims, making unproven allegations that damage someone’s reputation is unacceptable. by all mens, journalists should shine a light on corruption but only where they are able to prove that they have the evidence to back it up. Publishing something without that evidence should carry a criminal penalty – the paper’s editor should serve time and the paper should be fined a punitive sum. this is the only way to stop frivolous allegations made in the name of driving sales.

Tim Clarkereply
May 8, 2021 at 5:06 pm

An appalling story. Discerning people know what a pile of excrement those papers are. The original reporter remains unnamed. Why?

Tim Willisreply
May 8, 2021 at 8:15 pm

Dean is a hugely impressive individual to whom this country is indebted. I’ve met him on two charity bike rides and have been blown away by his steadfast commitment to his family and his friends. I feel so much for you both for what you have been put through. Stay strong and true. Alana, well done for telling your story and enlightening others with the truth. I wish you all the best and hope you can put this awful episode in the past.

Cindyreply
May 9, 2021 at 10:01 am

I’m sorry to hear what happened to you. I never ever read these terrible papers as a matter of principle, but unfortunately many people in this country like to be entertained with lies and salacious stories at the expense of other people. It is very sad that they still have so much negative influence in our country, and are so easily prepared to abuse their power. I hope you they can be brought to account. Good luck and well done for speaking up.

Sufiah Yusofreply
May 9, 2021 at 8:12 pm

Typical Mail behaviour. They do seem to have a “chip on their shoulder” about military as well – Paul Dacre’s dad spent most of the war writing gossip articles for the Express (like every tabloid journalist, he was a coward and didn’t want to get into a battle he couldn’t win – then got furious as….we stood our ground and he didn’t get the status he wanted).

Ailie Steelereply
May 9, 2021 at 9:12 pm

This is disgraceful. How can a national newspaper read by so many, stoop so low? The Daily Mail/Sunday Mail should be fined a certain percentage of it’s annual revenue for spreading such malicious gossip, ruining people’s lives and interfering with the fund raising so badly needed because the government it props up is only interest in it’s cronies.

Genevèvereply
May 10, 2021 at 4:28 am

This is absolutely disgusting behavior by these so-called reporters. Please consider suing and raising funds online to go after them. I would be gld to donate! What has become of the UK press? This is nothing short of a crime!

Nigelreply
May 10, 2021 at 12:05 pm

I’ve long thought of this vile rag as the Daily HateMail.

Danareply
May 11, 2021 at 1:50 am

I don’t know why the Brits still buy the rags of tabloids. I am sorry to hear of what you went through and clearly the editors are driven by profits by fear with no thought to human loss or mental health issues. Too many ppl have lost their lives but yet the papers still sell and the Gov’t is partly to blame.

Whistle Blowereply
May 11, 2021 at 3:24 pm

I am sorry to hear about this awful thing that happened to you and your family. I understand how powerful people feel that it is their birthright to damage the people they perceive as weaker than them. My wife and I are living victim of such hate.

Harryreply
May 12, 2021 at 6:29 pm

How unbelievably distressing….you are both very brave to have been able to have survived this unjust, and in my view, criminal and sustained attack.. However, now is the time to recognise that the Mail is guilty of ‘criminal libel’ and you should just crowd fund to enable you to take this case to court. Make sure that you have raised sufficient funds before your start any action.

Andy Millerreply
May 13, 2021 at 10:02 am

Well written, Alana!

Well done to Dean and you for surviving a monstering from the disgusting Mail. My story is so similar…I sued the Mail after they wrote libellous lies about me.

They have not changed….they are just dreadful liars and cheats.

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