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Monday, 11 March 2013

Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce. The News of the World's part in their downfall



Note to Leveson lovers, Hacked Off and other such press censors – WARNING, graphic red-top tabloid content

 




















Chris Huhne and Carina Trimingham
 


















Vicky Pryce



SINCE I began burbling on Twitter about the News of the World’s involvement in bringing down Chris Huhne, many have emailed asking me to reveal how we did it.

It began in March 2009. I received a call from a young chap who claimed to have some pictures of the married Labour MP Nigel Griffiths in a compromising position with a woman in his office.

The pictures had been discovered by a work experience lad who had been seconded to Griffiths’ office and they showed the MP with the woman dressed in her underwear and black stockings.

We were on fairly safe ground as there was a strong public interest argument for running the story. Griffiths had carried out the tryst in his House of Commons office, thereby smashing the MPs’ code of conduct.

Worse still, he’d done it on Remembrance Day 2008, when the nation honoured its war dead.

I raced out to meet the lad. I say, “raced”, because he’d also contacted our features department and they too were on their way. It had been a tactic of News of the World editors since the 1950s to set the features and news departments at each other's throats. We dominated the Sunday market and with no outside competition, internal competition had been an editor's tactic for 60 years. So there was no chance of the editor calling features off. May the best man win.

On this day, my “competitor” was my colleague Dan Evans. As I sped through London traffic, I rang the contact and warned him a chap impersonating Dan Evans was en route. And that he should avoid him at all costs as he was in fact an imposter working for the Sunday Mirror who would steal his story and expose him in the paper. He had to switch off his phone and meet me at a totally different location.

With Dan stranded and his line of communication cut off, I gathered the pictures and took them back to the office. The key to running the story was to prove the tryst took place in his House of Commons office. I memorised the scene and headed off to Westminster where I was admitted by a contact.

It’s tricky getting access to an MPs office without an appointment. I lurked unseen outside for a few hours hoping to get a glimpse when the door opened (I always fancied I was rather good at “lurking unseen”). 

After a few hours, I needed to take the initiative before I was rumbled. I knocked on the door, Griffiths answered and I brushed him to one side and strode purposefully into his room. “Are you the janitor?” I barked. “Certainly not”, said the Prime Minister’s best friend. “Very sorry, Wrong room then,” I replied as I turned 360 degrees and took in the scene. It was identical to the picture. Same ornaments, same litter bin, same sofa, same mock Gothic arch over the doorway. I’d seen enough to satisfy the News International lawyer and headed off leaving Griffiths looking puzzled and a little flustered.

As I made through a corridor on my way out, a familiar face I hadn’t seen in more than two decades beamed and came towards me hand outstretched. After a quick catch-up, he finished with, “Take a look at Chris Huhne. He’s got a mistress. Don’t know who but look hard enough and you’ll find her”.

I suppose you’re now all thinking, ‘For goodness sake, why didn’t you just start this piece by saying you were walking through the Commons when someone tipped you off about Huhne?!’ Well, I thought I’d put it into context. Like so many of my stories, they all boiled down to simply being in the right place at the right time – like a lucky centre forward. And I like a good story!

Where to start with Huhne? He had a constituency home in Eastleigh so I put a watch on that. After a week, one Friday night, a woman who was clearly not his wife, arrived alone, lifted up a brick from the front door, took the key beneath it and let herself in.

A short time later, Huhne arrived and knocked on the door. The woman opened it and let him in. The pair stayed there the night. The following day, we watched as they attended various functions together. It was crucial to identify who she was. It might have been a relative, although their body language said not.

We decided to follow her to her London home and do an electoral roll check on who lived there. Following someone from Hampshire to London by car is not an easy feat and we lost her at traffic lights moments from her address.

Back to the drawing board. And back to the constituency address where I was joined by my colleague Derek Webb, a former police officer with the elite South East Regional Crime Squad and the most gifted of surveillance experts.

A few weeks later, she was back. Same drill as the last time. But on the journey, we somehow managed keep on her tail unseen to base her at her London flat. The electoral roll showed her to be Carina Trimingham, a Lib-Dem activist who was also on his Facebook site as she’d helped him campaign on his failed leadership bid.

An internet search also showed she’d had a gay civil marriage which had since ended.

The story was written. But the editor Colin Myler spiked it, judging Huhne was not famous enough.

Fast forward to May 2010. The election ushered in the coalition government and Huhne suddenly found himself Climate Secretary. If not at the very centre of government, certainly close to its heart. I lobbied hard to resurrect the story and Myler agreed we should look at it again.

Back to Eastleigh. And like a lucky centre forward, five minutes later, Ms Trimingham arrived. Quickly followed by Huhne. They stayed the night, leaving separately in the morning.

The following Sunday, the story ran on the front page of the News of the World. Huhne strolled into his Clapham home and told his wife Vicky their 26 year marriage was over and walked calmly off to the gym.

Distraught and confused and still in love with her husband, she set about plotting her revenge and reveal how Huhne had organised for her to take three speeding points on his behalf to escape a driving ban.

Isabel Oakeshott, the Sunday Times political editor, exposed the crime with a carefully crafted strategy of trust combined with clinical, journalistic efficiency.

So this is her story. I tip my hat to her.

But it’s odd to think all this unravelling and domino effect would never have happened if a nosy teenager in 2009 hadn’t picked up the phone to me.

* Neville Thurlbeck is the founder of TalentGB, an on-line directory of entertainers and their showreels.

TalentGB is a platform for artistes to display their showreels and take bookings free of charge - function bands, tribute bands, wedding bands,  jazz bands, swing bands, singers, musicians, magicians, comedians and much more.

Since our launch on April 12, 2013, we have gained a rapid nationwide following and TalentGB's web pages have been viewed 32,183  times by 12,469 visitors in 520 UK towns and cities.

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24 comments:

  1. Very cunning. Probably why you ended up as chief reporter at the Screws. You should write a book. It would be far more interesting than Susie Boniface's. But tell us: did Dan find out it was you who shafted him? And did you ever feel resorting to such tactics ate away at your soul? Or were you just an 'all's fair in love and war' reporter?

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    1. There are a hundred stories like this one. It was a different world and all very fast paced. Dan was very aware of my plan to derail him. He was working with another colleague too, who I can't recall now. But they took it in good grace and we shook hands of course.

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  2. "...familiar face I hadn’t seen in more than two decades beamed and came towards me hand outstretched" - who? I feel you are hinting, teasing, willing this information to come out. Who dropped Huhne in it?

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  3. Not at all. Unlike the executives at News International and News Corporation, I protect my sources at all costs. You'd never find me exposing them.

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    1. You put in all that work ( 8 days? ) and then the Editor pulls it because Huhne was not famous enough. It does not add up. Is the Editor really that out of touch with what everyone is up to?

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    2. Tell 'em, Neville-- editors often may spike a story because, say, nobody gives a monkey's about an MP when he's a backbencher, and it would have no interest for the public at large beyond prurience, but such information might come in handy if needed to pry a story out of said MP at some future point, or should he rise through the ranks into Ministerial consideration/appointment, or should he just go and do something even sillier more publicly. It may be necessary to "compile a dossier," if you will, ready to be rolled out at the right time. Trust me, the editor could have been onto something about Huhne and was waiting for the story to have maximum effect. Or is my Heinlein's Razor dulled and rusty?

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  4. I once spent five weeks in Austria getting a story for an editor just for him to thank me, tell me to come home, sign off my expenses and then spike it!

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    1. and they say nurses have a hard job

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  5. Thanks for replying although still interested in knowing how you actually felt doing some of the stuff you did? Whilst exciting/unusual, did it take ever take a bit of your own humanity away?

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    1. Apparently John Milton said in Paradise Lost that whenever you take a News International/News Corporation salary cheque, you condemn youself to an extra day in Purgatory.

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    2. Apparently Dante said it was going to be much worse. But what does he know? Bloody Euro etc.

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  6. "Worse still, he’d done it on Remembrance Day 2008, when the nation honoured its war dead."

    This is the most priceless piece of tabloid justificatory cant I've ever seen. Public figures shouldn't be shagging on 11th November, ever?

    There's only one thing dishonouring war dead here, and its your frankly risible attemtps to make it work as some sort of justication for a story that was newsowrthy because a) he was an MP b) she wasn't his wife and c) was in boots and stockings.

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  7. You're wrong. The justification was in him breaking the MPs' code of conduct, which states: ``Members shall at all times conduct themselves in a manner which will tend to maintain and strengthen the public's trust and confidence in the integrity of Parliament and never undertake any action which would bring the House of Commons, or its Members generally, into disrepute.''

    The fact that he behaved in such a fashion on Remembrance Day, when his colleagues were honouring the dead at cenotaphs around the country, aggravated matters, especially amongst his constituents. You may think this acceptable. You're welcome to your opinion.

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  8. A great story well told Neville. We miss you on The Street of Shame.

    Jack Irvine

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  9. Thanks Jack. And thanks for those kind words too.

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  10. Beautifully captures the rush of the Fleet Street hunt, Neville/Jack I suppose you know of this repository of gems http://www.gentlemenranters.com. Good luck with Talking2Minds - great cause.

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  11. And apparently he has been boasting to friends that he will be out in 6 weeks...

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  12. MP has extra marital sex........so what! News of the World..keeping our world clean for us....what humbug!!

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  13. Splendid work

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  14. Yes, the News of the World did keep a watch on our world - and a very good watch, too. It was my grandfather's favourite newspaper. He was born in 1893, started buying it when he started work at the age of 13 in 1906, bought it to the day he finished work aged 75 and read it up to his death, aged 100, in November, 1993. A hard-working coal miner in his teens and twenties, coal merchant in his 30's and 40's and then successful businessman of the Black Country, who told me when I was 21 and about to vote for the first time:'Don't trust politicians, son. Most of them aren't worth two bob." How right he was on that score. For Anonymous (why are these creeps always frightened to use their own name?) let me tell you a few facts about the News of the World. It was scorned by readers of The Times when it first appeared in 1843 and was still being scorned by the tiny collection of Guardian readers when it was killed off prematurely. But in the meantime, it built up a phenomenal readership, peaking at around 8 million buyers. The heady mixture included exposing the wrongs of those who always claim to know better than the rest of us, becoming the voice and ears of the men and women who could not protect themselves and revealing everything from political scandal to corruption in international cricket. Was it scandalous? Of course it was! Readers like my grandfather loved high people being caught out in low places. The tale by Neville Thurlbeck should remind us all what we are missing - and what we will miss for ever more.

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  15. Men like your grandfather were the salt of the earth - and as our valued readers, our bread and butter. Thanks for sharing your memories.

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  16. I would agree that politicians are one of the most salacious of beings. Having worked in the halls of power (not going to say where) the stories and other bits one would see was unbelievable and jaw-dropping.
    But then again, put a few hundred guys who clearly never left their fraternity mentality in the same building with power and money and the result is certain.

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  17. I raced out to meet the lad. I say, “raced”, because he’d also contacted our features department and they too were on their way.

    Do you think you may have dropped your ex-features department in it Neville? Seems like half-a-dozen have been arrested so far.

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  18. Well I don't think they were arrested for being scooped by Neville Thurlbeck!

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