“So I’m now going to blog about @peterjukes & his family,” wrote Dennis Rice. TabloidTroll wrote: “If @PeterJukes writes any shit on me in his book the gloves will really come off. Newsnight ex wife, business failures.”
Introduction: why this matters to me
This evening has just seen the publication of Peter Jukes’ book Beyond Contempt: The Inside Story of the Phone Hacking Trial. It’s a volume of some special interest to me, due to several passages dealing with a minor side issue: Peter’s experiences with Dennis Rice, aka TabloidTroll, who attempted to intimidate him from writing freely by threatening to intrude on his personal family and financial circumstances.
I wrote about my own experiences with Rice three weeks ago; it’s perhaps a strange subject to find on a blog about religion, but I came under Rice’s scrutiny after I wrote a corrective to distorted Tweets he had posted about the “Terror Target Sugar” media fiasco (my post was kindly mirrored at Sunny Hundal’s Liberal Conspiracy website). I also agreed with evidence uncovered and assembled by Tim Ireland that Rice was sockpuppeting as TabloidTroll (it wasn’t just a pseudonym – TabloidTroll would commend Rice in third person, and such).
Rice took revenge as TabloidTroll by making nasty and creepy references to my mother and partner, making it very clear that he knows where my mother lives, and he eventually expanded on his theme in a grotesquely intrusive, nasty, and inaccurate blog post. Tim received similar treatment However, as Rice came to realise that I had not been intimidated, he then started phoning up my mother and threatening to come to her address. That is what finally persuaded me to return to the subject on this blog last month.
Dennis Rice as hacking victim
Rice is in an unusual position: he was formerly investigations editor of the Mail on Sunday, but he was also himself a victim of phone-hacking by rivals at the News of the World who were looking to steal a scoop about the then-Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott. The phone-hacking extended to two of his relatives, and to his work computer.
It’s not clear when Rice was made aware of what had happened: he recently told Roy Greenslade that it was in 2006, although a Storify post here suggests 2012 (there may be more clarity on this issue in two other new books – Nick Davies’ Hack Attack and Glenn Mulcaire’s co-authored confessional The News Machine - which I have not yet been able to peruse).
But either way, he retained the services of the lawyer Mark Lewis, and he and his family members received confidential civil settlements. Lewis is well-known as the lawyer for the Dowler family, and he has achieved a high profile as a campaigning activist on the subject of phone-hacking by journalists. He has advised Hacked Off, which presses for press regulation in the wake of the scandal, and he was himself the target of an attempted smear by the News of the World. Lewis has described Rice as “a really great bloke. Old fashioned journalist. I know him well”, and, frustratingly, he appears to have accepted uncritically Rice’s counter-narrative that Tim was harassing him, rather than the other way around.
However, Rice is bitterly opposed to Hacked Off, and he has referred to his own status as a hacking victim to argue that not all hacking victims want to see regulation, as much as they are opposed to the practice.
Dennis Rice turns on Peter Jukes
Rice, it should be remembered, maintains that he is not TabloidTroll – he has even written to Google, declaring “under penalty of perjury” that ” I am not responsible for this anonymous account (tabloidtroll)”. Peter’s book does not make any statement that contradicts this, although his narrative leaves us to draw our own conclusions:
“So I’m now going to blog about @peterjukes & his family,” wrote Dennis Rice. TabloidTroll wrote: “If @PeterJukes writes any shit on me in his book the gloves will really come off. Newsnight ex wife, business failures.” The fact the mother of my two children had been made a target was pretty disturbing.
For a long time, Rice as TabloidTroll enjoyed bantering with Peter, but things turned nasty after Peter drew a distinction between being hacked and finding your private life in a newspaper, and being hacked for purposes of industrial espionage. Of course it’s a horrible violation to be phone-hacked, even if private messages do not find their way into the public domain, but Rice’s reaction verged on hysteria. Peter writes:
Both Rice and TabloidTroll harried me for weeks over this, the former following me all the way to a piece on the Independent Australia website where he accused me of making journalists second class citizens, and implying I was disrespecting his family.
Peter’s comment was also the bizarre excuse Rice used for his “now going to blog about @peterjukes & his family” threat. However, as the publication of Beyond Contempt approached, and it dawned on Rice that his threat might appear in the book, TabloidTroll added his “ex wife, business failures” promise.
Peter Jukes “investigated”
Peter explains what happened next:
No blogs have yet emerged from Dennis Rice or Tabloid Troll. However a week or so later I received some anonymous texts mentioning vague legal threats and hoping I would “enjoy the weekend.” Some other Twitter accounts (which I didn’t see at the time) also wished me well for the weekend, and suggested some kind of “Daily Mail Tuesday.”
Peter was then approached by a journalist with the Daily Mail, who told him “that he’d been handed an anonymised email with personal financial details”, along with a separate piece of paper with his email address and mobile phone number. The allegation was that Peter had lied about needing funding for a mortgage repayment, when in fact he supposedly had no mortgage; however:
I explained to him calmly that there was no mortgage on my property because I had sold it two weeks previously. I could easily prove I had quite a sizeable mortgage until then… It was an embarrassing mistake for them: it was a false, non-story. Soon afterwards Tabloid Troll closed down and deleted his account.
Peter doesn’t claim that the attempted “exposure” was down to Rice; again, readers must draw their own conclusion. Rice also had other possible motives for closing the account: a number of TabloidTroll Tweets easily showed that Rice was the account holder, and I was starting to involve the authorities over his threats to visit my mother. TabloidTroll’s own story was that he was going offline to write a book, although of course that would not necessitate deleting the account.
The anonymous texts
But where had the anonymous texts come from? On Twitter, Peter wondered how the sender had acquired his mobile number, and suggested that a breach of the Data Protection Act may have occurred. This prompted an interjection from a man named Andrew Roberjot (@frankiescar), who said: “I just asked a friend of mine who knows you for your mobile number, they gave it to me, How is that illegal?”
Peter then noted that his mobile number was known to Neil Wallis, the former deputy editor of the News of the World; and Wallis had just recently before described Roberjot as his “drinking buddy”. Roberjot then explained he had received the number from someone else, that he had just made the comment “to prove a point”, and that he hadn’t passed the number on to anyone else.
Roberjot also claims to have met TabloidTroll, and to be able to confirm that he’s not Dennis Rice. He’s also just yesterday said that a photo of Rice posted by Press Gazette to Flickr some time ago (and recently removed after it came to attention) is actually a photo of someone else. But I know for a fact that the photo indeed is of the correct person; and in this instance I’ll follow Peter’s example and allow readers to come to their own conclusions.
UPDATE (23 August)
Press Gazette has published an article by Peter Jukes, headlined “How Peter Jukes invented a new way of funding court reporting and found himself investigated by the press”. It includes the threat emanating from the TabloidTroll account to write about “Newsnight ex wife, business failures”, and the subsequent anonymous texts and botched mortgage smear.
The original version also referenced the threat which Dennis Rice made under his own name to write about Peter’s family, but this section of the article has now been removed. From the above, you can see that I made it clear that Rice’s comment under his own named followed a discussion about his hacking settlement, while the comment from TabloidTroll was made as publication of Peter’s book approached. However, Peter’s text gave the impression that both Tweets appeared around the same time. Press Gazette has now issued a correction, which includes the following:
…It quoted a Tweet from Rice to Jukes which read: “So I am now going to write a blog about @peterjukes and his family – so he can enjoy a taste of his own medicine.” The extract mistakenly gave the impression that this message was sent in June 2014, around the time of a dispute over the reporting of the cost of the hacking trial.
In fact Rice posted the Tweet in January. He said it was in response to a tweet from the author which read: “You were hacked over a story about someone else’s private life Dennis. Yours was never outed.”
Rice has pointed out that (as the Guardian revealed last year) his wife and sister were also hacked. He said he pointed this out to Jukes, who then wrote about this exchange on his blog (published on 11 January):
The Jukes blog post stated: “Twitter is not the ideal place to have a nuanced argument, and Rice has since revealed his family was targeted. This is a privacy violation of the first order.”
Jukes has told Press Gazette that it was his impression that the Rice tweet about his family was sent in June because it was retweeted from another user’s account (via an MT) around that time.
Press Gazette has removed the reference to Dennis Rice from the article and would like to apologise to him for the mistake, and for not offering him right of reply in advance of publishing the extract.
I expect Rice will see that as some kind of vindication – and I’m sure he’s very relieved that his name has been taken out the main story.
But it’s actually a very minor point: it remains the case that Rice, under his own name, threatened to go after Peter’s family, not for any legitimate public interest reason, but to pursue private revenge. And revenge for what, exactly? Rice clearly disliked the “industrial espionage” distinction that Peter made as regards hacking; but this didn’t amount to writing about Rice’s family, let alone in any kind of way that would reasonably provoke “a taste of his own medicine” threat. Rice’s outrage was either hysterical or affected.
However, I can understand why Rice doesn’t want to see Tweets made in his own name placed next to those published under the TabloidTroll account: a forensic study of the two accounts published in 2012 indicated common authorship. Rice and TabloidTroll made exactly the same threat to Peter; most people should be able to work out what that means.
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