“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.
Note (22 September): Peter Jukes’ book was originally published as a PDF in August; it was subsequently revised and expanded for the print edition, which appeared last week. This blog entry has been updated to reflect the extra material contained in the revised version.
Introduction: why this matters to me
Peter Jukes’ book Beyond Contempt: The Inside Story of the Phone Hacking Trial is 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. Details appeared in a recent article by Roy Greenslade:
The [Mail on Sunday's] managing editor, John Wellington, spoke to Rice and [Laura] Collins in October 2006 – two months after [Clive] Goodman and [Glenn] Mulcaire were arrested – about the police having informed him that their mobile phones had been hacked between April and July 2006.
…Rice recalls that he was first called by the police, who told him he had been hacked 80 times, before he discussed it with Wellington. He later discovered that his office computer had also been hacked…
But the four were not required to be prosecution witnesses against Mulcaire. Wellington, who remained unaware of the computer hacking, said the police approached the paper so that its staff could change their mobile pin numbers.
For some reason, Greenslade doesn’t delve into why Wellington “remained unaware of the computer hacking”. Also, and strangely, Rice wrote a Storify piece that heavily implied that the contact with police came in 2012:
Two months earlier [April 2012] I had been called into New Scotland Yard and played a series of recordings which had been seized from the home of Glen Mulcaire.
They were messages left on my phone from friends, family, and work colleagues. In prosecution terms they were dynamite – pure indisputable proof of phone hacking.
Perhaps this means that although Rice was told about the hacking in 2006, the recordings did not come to light until 6 years later.
Following the 2012 meeting with police, Rice 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 lobbies for press regulation, 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 as evidence that some hacking victims do not want to see the scandal lead to press regulation.
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.
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:
Rice took exception to this and told me that his family had been targeted. I replied I was very sorry to hear that and updated my blog. This failed to placate Rice, who accused me of “stalking” him on Linked In (he’d come up in a search I’d done when writing up his timeline from the trial). He added that he was a potential witness, and I was “harassing” him so he was thinking of reporting me to the Attorney General…
Rice… somehow read my blog as demeaning journalists as second-class citizens. “It’s now 24 hrs since I showed @peterjukes that his smear blog about my family was factually incorrect,” he tweeted, “yet he still refuses to alter it. So I’m now going to blog about @peterjukes & his family.” There were some mutterings about me being too afraid to meet him face to face.
I was more concerned about.the tone of his subsequent comments. “His blatant refusal to remove these falsehoods invites me to look as an investigative journalist what else is going on here,” Rice tweeted about my “malicious” “smear blog,” saying I was “wetting your pants when a real journalist turns his gaze on you. I’m coming.” I was not sure what Rice meant when he said he was “coming,” though I knew he had taunted someone else on Twitter after doing financial checks at Companies House. Through the months ahead I anxiously anticipated some kind of blog about my financial background or my family. Rice locked down his feed again.
Another account, TabloidTroll (which Rice vigorously insists he has nothing to do with) mentioned me regularly, my crowd-funding, and even suggested I should give some of the proceeds to my ex-wife.
This is a pattern with Rice; creepy messages of a goading and self-evidently harassing nature, which attempt to justify personal intrusion by projecting his own malice onto his target. Peter hadn’t written anything about Rice’s family other than to acknowledge they’d been hacked; there was absolutely nothing that could reasonably provoke “a taste of his own medicine” threat. Rice’s outrage was either hysterical or affected.
Peter Jukes “investigated”
Later in the book, Peter explains what happened as publication approached:
Now there was no danger of contempt, I tweeted out that this book would contain some of the background stories about pressure during the trial.
Soon, TabloidTroll was back on Twitter, writing: “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. As for “business failures,” I crowd-funded my tweets because my earnings from freelance journalism were insupportably low (though I love the job.)
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.”
I recall seeing the Tweets at the time; one, which was quickly deleted, was from an obscure account controlled by a man who I know had helped Rice write the unpleasant blog about my mother; another one was an anonymous and abusive troll account that also carried goading comments about Tim and his partner. The account used the photo of a plus-size woman who had nothing to do with any of this; when her friend asked the author to remove the photo, he responded by saying that the woman should apologise for being ugly. The account was then deleted, although a copy has been saved.
As predicted by the Tweets, Peter was then approached by a journalist with the Daily Mail named Richard Marsden, who told him “he’d been handed an anonymised email with personal financial details and a separate piece of paper with my 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.
Appendix 1: The anonymous texts
The anonymous texts remain a mystery – as can be seen above, the author falsely accuses Peter of having deleted material. 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 that Wallis had just recently before described Roberjot as his “drinking buddy”. Peter then confirmed that Wallis had his mobile number; this in turn prompted Wallis to accuse Peter of making “ludicrous allegations”. 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. The result of all this back-and-forth, which had been triggered by Roberjot’s initial comment, was that the question of who had actually sent Peter the crank texts was hopelessly beclouded. Perhaps that was the point.
Incidentally, Roberjot also claims to have met TabloidTroll, and to be able to confirm that he’s not Dennis Rice. He’s also 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.
Appendix 2: Press Gazette
In August, Press Gazette published an article by Peter, headlined “How Peter Jukes invented a new way of funding court reporting and found himself investigated by the press”. It included details of 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. This is because 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.”
…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 saw 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 obviously 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.
However, I can understand why Rice doesn’t want to see Tweets made in his own name juxtaposed with 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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