Do get in touch Mr Dacre – it’s cold out here on your doorstep
I can tell you that with a deep depression centring on the North Sea and a northerly gale-force airflow, autumn is truly here and it’s damned cold standing around in the dark for hours on end.
Two reasons why Channel 4 News has asked repeatedly to conduct a civilised, possibly even indoor, interview with the editor-in-chief of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, Paul Dacre.
Because Associated Newspapers continue to dismiss this out of hand, the situation for us and Mr Dacre is becoming increasingly bizarre as we seek to ask him some legitimate questions.
So first let’s look at last night’s absurdity, then consider why this is an important matter of public interest.
We arrived in Paul Dacre’s street in west London, mid-evening.
We rang the doorbell to his large townhouse but there was no response and, whilst a car was in the parking space in front of the garage in the cobbled mews lane, there was no sign of anybody at home.
That is not unusual since Mr Dacre is on record as telling the world that he is generally in the office in Kensington until around 10 o’clock at night.
We waited. That northerly wind strengthened by the hour. Towards 11pm a black car nosed down the narrow laneway approaching the house. It stopped for a moment or two as if the occupants of that car had seen us.
We had made no attempt to hide ourselves or what we were doing – why should we, it is perfectly lawful.
The car then slowly reversed back out of the lane, onto the street, turned, and drove off into the night. I cannot say for sure that Paul Dacre was in the car. Subsequent events would rather suggest that he was however.
About five minutes later a burly man in a suit – possibly the driver or bodyguard, approached the house belonging to Mr Dacre on foot. He entered.
After a few minutes on the top floor he descended, exited, locked up behind him and left, carrying what appeared to be a small hold-all, ideal for containing the immediate necessities for someone suddenly deciding they would not spend the night in their own bed.
I immediately approached this gentleman and enquired if he would kindly relay a message to Mr Dacre explaining that we simply wanted to ask him a few simple questions relating to the article he published saying Ed and David Miliband’s father Ralph “hated” Britain.
The man said nothing. He did not look at me, nor stop walking or deviate in any way. Nor did he show the slightest surprise at my enquiry.
He turned the corner, made a brief call on his mobile phone, then crossed the street, unlocked what appeared to me the same black car as we’d earlier filmed, and drove off into the night.
Some minutes passed and a rather jovial motorcycle dispatch rider then arrived at the house and posted his parcel through the letterbox.
Quite forgivably surprised at our presence – I explained why we were there.
“Why don’t you post a request through the letterbox?” he suggested reasonably enough, “or ask the newsdesk to speak to him?”
Well quite, would that life were that simple.
And with that we and Mr Dispatch left the scene for somewhere, anywhere, a little bit warmer.
So why do all this?
For three reasons. There are broadly three categories of very public interest in what Paul Dacre has to say and his side of the story in the row with Ed Miliband and wider judicial criticism of Mr Dacre’s methods.
First – Ed Miliband’s demand that Associated Newspapers investigate their own conduct and ethics. This request shows no signs of being acted upon – not that papers necessarily should simply do politicians’ bidding of course. Mr Miliband also alleged the Daily Mail has lost its touch in understanding the ethics and morality of its own readers and the recent article they advance as “proof” of that. Again, no real response.
Second, the Daily Mail City Editor Alex Brummer last week told Channel 4 News the article could have been handled better, signposted better and set up better in the paper than it was, and in this regard the paper got some things wrong. It’s the first hint from the Daily Mail that anything about the newspaper piece was less than perfect. Again no response from the editor Mr Dacre.
Third, Lord Leveson in his report specifically and individually singled out Paul Dacre as a man incapable or simply unwilling to understand that printing false information about people is both hurtful and damaging.
This is the central argument from the leader of the opposition – that saying Ralph Miliband hated Britain is both wrong and hurtful. Lord Justice Leveson raised questions about the publishers of the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday in his lengthy report into the newspaper industry, saying that executives appeared to be “unwilling to entertain the idea” that the disclosure of sensitive information would cause significant upset.
To take just one example of many, Mr Dacre accepted to Leveson that a story about the actor Neil Morrissey was inaccurate and defamatory, yet he was unwilling to accept that the article might be hurtful to the actor. Lord Justice Leveson said that Mr Dacre and his team appeared to be unable to acknowledge the consequences of articles in Associated Papers.
Lord Justice Leveson thus raises important questions about one of the most powerful newspaper editors in the UK and his team. Mr Dacre has not answered this at all in the light of the Miliband row.
It would, however, be wise to ignore all the yah-boo shouting from many quarters that because of Paul Dacre’s refusal to answer questions directly from the media, he and his papers “can dish it out but they cannot take it” and the noise that there’s a whiff of hypocrisy and cowardice in the air.
This seems to me rather undignified, unhelpful and quite possibly inaccurate.
Plainly the Daily Mail has been a major force in exposing wrongdoing, on many occasions, for example its hunting down of the Stephen Lawrence gang to name but one case.
I write this as someone who has willingly written for both Mr Dacre’s papers in the past – but also as someone now tasked with extracting some simple answers from the Editor-in-Chief. As a definition of neutrality that’s reasonably sound I suggest.
So Mr Dacre – can we please do this somewhere warm and civilised and soon? Then we can all move on. Being elusive merely gives enemies of your papers ammunition and gives the story legs. Do get in touch.
And perhaps all is not lost. Pure coincidence no doubt, but take a glance at today’s Mail, page 14. At the bottom of a long editorial savaging the Guardian, Mr Dacre’s organ suddenly sees fit to do the nice about Ralph Miliband.
It acknowledges that he fought in the war, and now says “he hated so much about this country”. That’s not quite the same as the blanket claim that he “hated Britain”. The paper also admits that he never gave “practical help to our enemies.”
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