Tuesday, 17 January 2012

When Rupert Spiked the Splash

THERE has been a request on the blog for examples of stories where a lot of time and money was spent getting nowhere.
Examples are rare but I can think of a couple.
The problem here of course is because the stories didn’t go through our rigorous legal process, it would be fatal to name the stars involved.
The celebrities will sue and yours truly will be forced out of his ‘umble ‘ovel in the ‘ills and into the workhouse.
So, with that in mind, here is heroic failure number one.
In September 2005, I was dispatched to Austria to prove an A list celebrity was conducting an extra-marital affair with a beautiful young socialite.
Because of the nature of the investigation, I had to stay in the Hotel Schloss Pichlarn in Irdning – for five weeks. It was a five star hotel and not inexpensive.
Photographs were taken and affidavits sought and obtained from several witnesses including a taxi driver. A tape recorded interview was obtained from a police officer who had moonlighted as a body guard.
The girl was traced and she was persuaded to come on side.
She was interviewed and every minute piece of proof was combed over.
Then more pictures of the girl with make-up artists flown out to give her a final bit of polish.
Finally, a lawyer was sent from London  to handle the swearing of the affidavits in case an Austrian lawyer blabbed and leaked  our big scoop.
And all of the above had to be translated into English!
All this cost tens of thousands of pounds of course.
But this was nothing compared to the impact the story would have had worldwide.
It never saw the light of day.
The celebrity in question was in litigation with us on another matter. It was entering delicate stages and we didn’t want to damage the resolution process.
Story spiked. I came home.
But this pales into insignificance compared to the experience of Phil Taylor, my former colleague and good friend.
In 2002, Phil’s mission was to prove that the wife of one of the most famous celebrities on the planet had a secret past as a high class prostitute.
Phil, one of the best reporters I’ve come across, spent months travelling all over the world using his considerable skills persuading and cajoling her former mesdames, clients and friends to help him prove his story.
It was a daunting task. But he succeeded. The story was certain to land him Scoop of the Year.
Phil was writing up his story in the office when the editor Rebekah Wade, now Brooks, went out for lunch with Rupert Murdoch.
She returned with a face like a double bass.
Phil was summoned to Rebekah’s office. The story was being spiked and she was extremely sorry but she couldn’t explain why. As a consolation, he was told he could take a holiday anywhere in the world with his family at the company’s expense. He went to Jamaica I believe.
Rebekah was as devastated as Phil. But she kept her word and never revealed why she pulled the story.
The explanation  behind this will agitate those of you who hate proprietary interference.
A senior executive later told me that Rupert had asked her not to run it.
Years beforehand  in the early 1990s when Rupert was launching Sky, he was hemorrhaging cash left, right and centre as the infant satellite broadcaster barely spluttered into life.
Rupert had staked his family fortune on the venture and for a period, it looked like he might go under. Hard to believe now, but for those of us at News International at the time, we feared he might.
The multi-millionaire celebrity in question injected much needed cash.
Rupert never forgot it and the story was pulled.
Should we criticise him for it?
Unconditional loyalty to friends and those who give you a hand up when you are down is a priceless human virtue.
It shows the common humanity of the man.
It’s what always set Rupert Murdoch apart from Robert Maxwell.


  1. Andy BarkerJan 17, 2012 02:37 AM

    At the end of the day - you look after your mates!

  2. Harry ColeJan 17, 2012 04:45 AM

    And what about those stories spiked slightly lower down the ladder by "old friends"?

  3. Neville ThurlbeckJan 17, 2012 06:34 AM

    I'm wracking my brain on that one Harry. I'm not saying it never happened but I can't say I ever witnessed it.

  4. Lloyd JonesJan 18, 2012 01:06 AM

    Mr. Thurlbeck, for the sake of neatness and brevity, have you considered a domain name for this blog rather than the cumbersome address that it currently holds? ie ?

  5. AnonymousJan 18, 2012 03:50 PM

    Now that you're out of a job, why don't you out these people?

  6. EnigmaticFoxJan 19, 2012 08:10 AM

    For goodness sake. Why anyone would wish to read such utter delusion is beyond me. And how anyone could do what you and countless people like you are still doing; harassing and bullying people, intruding into their lives, preying on the weak and vulnerable. I even read an article once, about a teenager whose girlfriend has recently died, he was hounded even at his school, by your mates. The Headmaster found the reporters lurking in bushes in the school grounds. This kid was just an innocent youth, you couldn't even use the pathetic excuse that it was in the 'public interest.' You didn't just go after the well known people did you, you went after anyone whom you felt could sell your papers.

    Would you do anything for money Mr Thurbeck?

    What is happening to you and your like now is called karma, something that even Murdoch cannot but his way out of. I feel so very sad for you all, I really do, for you are all living lives of delusion and ignorance. I really do hope that you have learnt something from your sufferings and can now go on and lead lives that will actually help other beings.

    That people want to read the sort of articles that appear in comics like NOTW, the Sun and Mirror saddens me beyond belief

  7. AnonymousJan 19, 2012 10:16 AM

    I give this piece a double thumbs up, and I am very, very drunk.

  8. AnonymousJan 19, 2012 11:00 AM

    I would just like to echo what EnigmaticFox said just there.

    Not such a lark when the tables are turned, is it?

  9. MirandaJan 19, 2012 11:48 AM

    Rupert Murdoch's intervention here was no more honourable than that of a thief refusing to grass on a gang member.

    As a journalist, you have no business protecting your mates while gleefully hanging non-mates out to dry for similar "wrongdoing". Until hacks like you (and Murdoch) get to grips with this moral imperative the whole idea of "public interest" will inevitably be seen as a sham.

  10. kennyevilJan 20, 2012 06:19 AM

    Let's suppose that Phil's story was accurate and that the famous celebrity's wife was a former high class prostitute. In what way was the story really in the public interest? Did this woman seek the public eye herself? Had she spoken out about prostitution, either in support or against it?

    In the case of the A-list celebrity, were they publicly extolling the virtues of marriage and fidelity?

    It seems that, in your attempts to defend the journalism of the news of the world you can only provide examples of very expensive gossip.

    I fully agree with Miranda's assessment that the picking and choosing of targets based on friendships with management reduces what little ethical defense your former employers had with the idea of "public interest."

    Frankly, the News of the World wasn't just a disgrace to journalism, it was a blight on culture in general.

    1. Neville ThurlbeckJan 20, 2012 09:01 AM

      Thanks for your comment Kennyevil. It scaled the public interest bar in many respects but to detail them would identify the person involved.

    2. Reply
  11. MirandaJan 21, 2012 08:44 AM

    I'm afraid your reply to Kennyevil only makes matters worse, Neville. If there was a genuine public interest dimension to the story, suppressing it deprived us of information we had an overriding NEED and RIGHT to know about.

    1. Neville ThurlbeckJan 21, 2012 11:11 AM

      Maybe you missed my point Miranda or perhaps it's my fault for not making it clear - there are sometimes more important things in life than journalism.

    2. Reply
  12. AnonymousFeb 16, 2012 08:49 AM

    oh boy..... the worsct is yet to come. Murdoch has known since day one what has kick started the whole thing and it ain't about the hacking of a deceased girl's phone! You know there is a reason why James Murdoch has fled to San Fransisco.

    All I will say is The Times could possibly survive, but the sun & Itv are next. YES THAT'S RIGHT ITV!

  13. AnonymousFeb 22, 2012 05:22 AM

    Neville, I'm interested to know if you moderate the comments on this blog?

    1. Neville ThurlbeckFeb 22, 2012 08:32 AM

      Yes I do. 99 per cent get published. The odd one which may be libellous or abusive has been deleted. Only two or three though.

    2. Reply
  14. Neville ThurlbeckFeb 28, 2012 01:06 AM

    Many of you are still submitting comments on this posting guessing who the celebrity could be. I obviously can't publish them as to do so will libel all parties by innuendo. Thanks for reading.

  15. AnonymousMar 3, 2012 04:16 AM

    Neville, I was under the impression that the story of the alledged former high class prostitute was well known as was the identity of the celebrity husband concerned. Im sure I read these allegations in the tabloids are you sure the story wasnt printed?

  16. AnonymousMar 5, 2012 11:49 PM

    When I worked at The People as a shifter I had scoop on a well known TV star getting drunk before their prime time show went on air. Viewers had suspected it for a while, but strenuous denials were always made. Failed, recovering alcoholics should not to be exploited, yet this star actually marketed themselves as a reformed alcoholic and made money on the back of it. The Dept ed and News ed were chuffed and a contract was on its way in recognition of my work...Saturday morning came and the star's agent called our editor saying:"Run the story and you'll never get any press release/interview/assistance with any story ever again." It was spiked. At least I was given the contract.

    Rene Butler

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