HACKGATE: Barclay brothers hunt the leak-leakers.

But doubts remain about Telegraph news-hound methods

The Barclay twins


In an extraordinary development yesterday, Telegraph Group  owners the Barclay brothers called in a top US detective agency to find out who leaked the Cable ‘get Murdoch’ story to the BBC. But who’s investigating their journalists’ other activities?

Cast your minds back to two bright-eyed young things illegally taping Vince Cable’s privileged remarks about the fun of being Business Minister. They were and are employed by the Daily Mail sorry Daily Telegraph, which has been suffering from to Alien Mailist Disease (AMD) for the past four years. They’re called Holly Watt and Laura Roberts – and they caught out silly Vince saying he wanted to ‘get’ Rupert Murdoch….as indeed do we all.

Except that when Holly and Laura filed the story – hugely approved by editor Tony Gallagher, himself a carrier of AMD – the Barclay brothers of Sark got wind of the piece, and spiked all the stuff about Rupert.

The theory (well-based in fact, I understand) is that the Barclays quite liked the idea of Cable stuffing their major competitor, and quite disliked the idea of the Business Minister’s intentions being made public. Hence the spike. So far, The Slog has yet to find a single journalist who thinks that the story Gallagher went with was as good without the Get Murdoch bits.

Sadly for the Barclays, a staffer decided he (or more likely, I’m told, she) was fed up of what Dominic Lawson once called “the incessant editorial interference” of the brothers….and gave the story to an asleep shocked and delighted Robert Peston at the BBC – knowing only too well that the Beeb would publish, and thus help destroy its sworn enemies in the Murdoch family.

Tony Gallagher was then made to look an idiot the next day when he went with Cable’s psychotic intentions towards Rupert the patriarch, and a total prat when he denied that the original story had been spiked by non-UK taxpayers.

As a result of this – somewhat belatedly – the Barclays have now called in top Wall Street private hound Jules Kroll, a chap who sells his detective agency more times than most people change socks. At one time he sold the company to insurance giant Marsh & MacLennan for $1.9 billion, although insiders on the Street say Jules was ‘bought out’ to focus solely on defending MarchMac from been fingered by the New York DA Eliot Spitzer on a charge of having constructed “an elaborate charade of price-fixing and bid-rigging”.

Curiously, Spitzer soon afterwards found himself suckered into a call-girl scandal…and disappeared from view.

Kroll, 70, is a tough nut who once worked as a private eye for Bobby Kennedy. But as Money Week puts it, ‘as Kroll Inc expanded into armed security, its own ethics came into question’.

Nice folks all round then, but not a particularly nice atmosphere in which to work for the Telegraphers. What I’d imagine Jules won’t be investigating, however, is how else 2010 Journalist of the Year nominee Holly Watt (and others) get their many exclusives….which is fine, because The Slog is already on the case.

Until last April, as it happens, Holly had spent four years at the Sunday Times….a Rupert Murdoch paper. Earlier this week, the phone-hacking contagion spread from Murdoch title the News of the World to its sister rag The Sun. So it may be that the problem is genetic rather than infectious – it would be foolish to speculate about such things.

Laura Roberts is yet another AMD carrier who has livened up the Mandrake column quite a bit of late. While Laura was at the Mail, the paper topped the League of dodgey investigator users with a staggering 952 invoices actioned by no less than 58 journalists. So that would be just about everyone there then, I’d imagine. But maybe I have the numbers wrong.

Anyway, now Laura’s at the Telegraph, taping MPs without their permission – an activity which several authorities  (most notably legal eagle MP David Howarth) have described as ‘probably a criminal offence’….but one which Plod hasn’t got round to yet.

However, Plod in the shape of Hackgate investigation chief Sue Akers will get round to it. It’s just that the pile of thick dossiers is getting taller and taller upon her crowded desk.