A Tabloid Troll and Patrick Mercer

In January 2009, two articles in British tabloids revealed that “Muslim fanatics” were planning to harm public figures in the UK as a response to Israeli actions in Gaza. The People revealed that the singer Madonna was a target because of her “Jewish links”, while the Sun issued a front page story (since deleted from its website) claiming that Alan Sugar was a “terror target” because he is Jewish. Both stories relied heavily on postings taken from on-line discussion forums, and were deeply problematic. In the case of the Madonna story, Unity at Ministry of Truth noted that the postings cited came from newly-created accounts that could not be traced back to anyone, while the evidence of a plot against Sugar was discovered by Tim Ireland of Bloggerheads to have been planted by Glen Jenvey, who was the person who claimed to have discovered it.

Jenvey’s status as an independent “counter-terror” expert had been endorsed by Patrick Mercer MP, who was formerly Shadow Minister for Homeland Security. Further, Mercer’s office acted as a conduit between Jenvey and the media – Tim has published an email in which a member of Mercer’s staff pitched a (different) story to the People after having “been in touch with Mr Jenvey about a number of things”. As the evidence against Jenvey piled up, Mercer issued a statement in which he announced that he would be “looking carefully”  into “his dealings with Mr Jenvey”. However, he’s been reluctant to discuss the matter since then; instead, he discussed Tim with Nadine Dorries MP, and followed her lead by crying “stalker” to deflect further critical scrutiny (Mercer found this tactic so congenial that he went on to use the same trick against his ex-lover).

Tim’s interaction with Mercer was recently (20 April) raised on Twitter, by someone using the name “Tabloidman” (@tabloidtroll)

@tabloidtroll: @bloggerheads You’re in Private Eye for your little dodgy stunts so often you should be given your own column don’t you think? #hypocrisy

@malcolmcoles: @bloggerheads @tabloidtroll he wasn’t necessarily claiming you were named in it was he? I read it more that your stunts were in it …*

@tabloidtroll: @zelo_street @bloggerheads I was referring to his involvement not naming you insignificant little man.

@tabloidtroll: @zelo_street @bloggerheads God this is boring! Just see his manipulation in the Eye of far right activist to have a go at Patrick Mercer.

Tabloidman has spent the last few months firing off vituperative Tweets against various individuals involved with the Leveson Inquiry; his targets have included Tom Watson MP and Richard Peppiatt, who last year quit working for the Star in disgust at the paper’s standards. The above attack on Tim was Tabloidman’s response to an inquiry from Tim as to whether he would like to declare an interest.

Tabloidman’s accusations are a libellously garbled travesty. The only occasion on which material derived from Tim’s researches has featured in Private Eye was in relation to Tim’s exposure of Jenvey; however, it was not a “stunt”, nobody was “manipulated” (and Jenvey is not a “far right activist”), and the target was the Sun, not Patrick Mercer. The Eye was able to follow the evidence trail for the story independently; and having done so, this was probably why the journalist concerned felt that he could use Tim’s work without giving any credit (and to make a “nutter” jibe when Tim complained). I read the Eye regularly, and I’ve never seen anything else that could be traced back to Tim (although some input from Tim would certainly improve the magazine).

But why did Tabloidman seize on the Mercer connection in the first place? As Tim notes in an interview for the Social Media Show, this is not likely to be an issue that many people are familiar with. This, and other reasons not in the public domain, led Tim to suspect the identity of Tabloidman to be a freelance journalist named Dennis Rice, whose credits appear to include a story about a piece of burnt toast that looked like Osama bin Laden.

As Tim now writes on his blog, he recently asked Rice by email if he was Tabloidman; Rice replied, stating that he was not, and that his “lawyers will deal with anything anyone would be foolish enough to print – alleging or otherwise – that I am”. Earlier, a message had been sent to Tabloidman containing a weblink to a page on Tim’s site. Tabloidman clicked on the link; the IP matched that of Rice’s email.

It’s not clear why Rice would consider being linked to Tabloidman to be damaging to his reputation: he commended Tabloidman on his own Twitter feed, and he has been in communication with Tabloidman about Tim; after a link to Tim’s piece was promoted by Tom Watson, Tabloidman cautioned Watson that

Ricey told me about the loon stalking him. Be careful of the company you keep. (1)

Think Thames Valley Police will want to talk to you. They are currently investigating your (clearly unchecked) source. (2)

Rice has indeed reported Tim to the police for daring to ask him about Tabloidman; he has also deleted his own Twitter feed while allowing Tabloidman to rant on against Tim, both on Twitter and on his own website. These attacks include the claim that Tim has “harassed” Nadine Dorries (a subject I have discussed here) and a deliberate misrepresentation of the IP address issue – Tabloidman states that Tim is claiming to have captured an IP from a Twitter DM, which is of course impossible. Tabloidman also reportedly claims that his anonymous Tweets attacking people amount to “whistleblowing”, and that his anonymity is therefore protected by law.

Coincidentally, Rice  had a “terror target” story of his own, back in September 2008: in an article for the Express (sister paper to the Star), he wrote that Paul McCartney “has been threatened that he will be the target of suicide bombers unless he abandons plans to play his first concert in Israel.” The report quoted criticism of McCartney from “a number of websites”, although Omar Bakri provided the meat of the piece with a suitably sinister quote. Patrick Mercer also makes an inevitable appearance in the story.

The genre of over-hyped and poorly-sourced terror threat stories has survived Jenvey’s exposure. Over the past couple of years, British newspaper readers have pondered the spectre of “HIV-needle bombs” (that was another one from Mercer); “breast-implant bombs“; and, just recently, an “Olympic cyanide-cream” scare.

* I’ve included Malcolm Coles’ interjection as he’s a media insider – “Product Director at Trinity Mirror”.

UPDATE (13 June): Tabloid Troll is now claiming to contain multitudes:

…In the case of one journalist wrongly identified as being Tabloidtroll we haven’t been able disprove blatant lies which have been told about him in an instant – which coming out and saying who we are would obviously do.

And without giving too much more away we can tell you that those contributing to this Tweet/Blog come from four very different and distinct tabloid newspapers – giving you unparalleled insights, for example, about what is happening behind the scenes at News International, while also writing about the internal machinations at Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday. Among our ranks are both Sunday and Daily newspaper staff of all colours and creeds, and sexes.

It looks like Tabloid Troll is therefore everyone except Dennis Rice.

Of course, this may be the case now; but this plurality is oddly difficult to detect in Tabloid Troll’s Twitter history, even in posts where one would expect a corporate “we”. For example: “Has it not occurred to you that a lot of the hacks who follow me might know exactly who I am?” (12 May); “Yet he won’t answer the Q as to how he knew about plans to out me” (9 May); “All this nonsense about me only started after I dared to question the accountability and transparency of the MST and Hacked Off” (9 May); and “I am now apparently being followed by Clint Eastwood” (24 April). Also, there was a short-lived site which Tabloid Troll created to attack critics and the ex-Daily Star whistleblower Richard Peppiatt:

The peculiar irony of being wrongly outed – both in name and for no justifiable cause – is that I now have close to 2,500 followers today.

Another oddity is that a Tabloid Troll supporter using the Twitter name “frankiescar” recently claimed to have met Tabloid Troll, and in his opinion “he’s great lunch company”. Tabloid Troll confirmed that the meeting had occurred, describing his “Splendid lunch with @frankiescar today” (Mini update: as soon as I drew attention to this evidence on Twitter, Tabloid Troll blocked me.)

UPDATE 2 (17 July): Tim has now published a study of Tweets posted by @tabloidtroll and @dennisricemedia, produced by Dr Nicci MacLeod at the Centre for Forensic Linguistics at Aston University. The report’s conclusion:

There are a significant number of examples of consistency between the two sets of texts, and these are significant because as authors we are faced with a variety of options, and within each range of options the author(s) of both these sets of texts has selected the same option. Put another way, the analyses presented here have demonstrated that for all the features selected, each of which allows for a limited set of choices to be made, the author of tabloidtroll and the author of dennisricemedia make the same choice.

Based on my analyses, I conclude that there are multiple points of linguistic consistency, and no significant points of linguistic difference. It is my opinion that the use of emoticons and onomatopoeic expressions is the most marked, and therefore provides the strongest evidence of consistency.

One particularly striking parallel noted in the report is that both accounts have made use of the unusual phrase “-err not.” (including the hyphen and full stop): Tabloid Troll on 19 March, and Dennis Rice Media on 9 January. These pre-date interest in whether Rice is running both accounts.

Meanwhile, Tim has also returned to the matter of police involvement: Rice made two complaints against Tim, and each time

Thames Valley Police responded by dragging their heels and “collating papers” for many weeks before finally confirming that I was never a suspect, while neatly avoiding any comment on Dennis Rice demonstrably implying/claiming otherwise on their behalf.


One man who allowed himself to be convinced by Rice’s lies offered to come around to confront me personally about my ‘cowardice’, to see if I was a “man or a mouse”. Not as any kind of threat, you understand, just so he could know whether to bring cheese. Ha. ha. Ha.

One interesting aside is that during June the distinguished journalist Roy Gleenslade made a passing reference on his Guardian blog to Tabloid Troll’s main site, describing it as “a newly launched blog ‘written by a number of anonymous national newspaper journalists’ [which] looks as if it has the potential to be an interesting read in future.” Tim left a comment on the site putting Greenslade right, which was quickly deleted and replaced with a notice stating that “this comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our community standards” – thus leaving the false impression that it had been abusive in some way, rather than simply awkward.

Tim now adds:

Here I grant Roy Greenslade a slow handclap for immediately falling for one of these charades and endorsing a day-old site from an unknown author… over an article on the subject of media standards, no less. Roy didn’t correct his idiocy, by the way; he ran away from thread, leaving me/others to deal with the fallout, and repeatedly allowing Rice to pretend that he had been legitimised by the Guardian’s “endorsement”. Thanks, Roy. You started out with a single act of mere idiocy, but then you were so afraid of looking foolish you acted like a complete bastard. I doubt I shall be trusting you again now I know how reluctant you are to admit error and/or correct diary items even when you know you are in the wrong.