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The bugger, bugged

After a chance meeting with a former News of the World executive who told him his phone had been hacked, Hugh Grant couldn’t resist going back to him – with a hidden tape recorder – to find out if there was more to the story. . .

When I broke down in my midlife crisis car in remotest Kent just before Christmas, a battered white van pulled up on the far carriageway. To help, I thought. But when the driver got out he started taking pictures with a long-lens camera. He came closer to get better shots and I swore at him. Then he offered me a lift the last few miles to my destination. I suspected his motives and swore at him some more. (I'm not entirely sympathetic towards paparazzi.) Then I realised I couldn't get a taxi and was late. So I had to accept the lift.

He turned out to be an ex-News of the World investigative journalist and paparazzo, now running a pub in Dover. He still kept his camera in the car's glove box for just this kind of happy accident.

More than that, he was Paul McMullan, one of two ex-NoW hacks who had blown the whistle (in the Guardian and on Channel 4's Dispatches) on the full extent of phone-hacking at the paper, particularly under its former editor Andy Coulson. This was interesting, as I had been a victim - a fact he confirmed as we drove along. He also had an unusual defence of the practice: that phone-hacking was a price you had to pay for living in a free society. I asked how that worked exactly, but we ran out of time, and next thing we had arrived and he was asking me if I would pose for a photo with him, "not for publication, just for the wall of the pub".

I agreed and the picture duly appeared in the Mail on Sunday that weekend with his creative version of the encounter. He had asked me to drop into his pub some time. So when, some months later, Jemima asked me to write a piece for this paper, it occurred to me it might be interesting to take him up on his invitation.

I wanted to hear more about phone-hacking and the whole business of tabloid journalism. It occurred to me just to interview him straight, as he has, after all, been a whistleblower. But then I thought I might possibly get more, and it might be more fun, if I secretly taped him, The bugger bugged, as it were. Here are some excerpts from our conversation.

Me So, how's the whistleblowing going?
Him I'm trying to get a book published. I sent it off to a publisher who immediately accepted it and then it got legal and they said, "This is never going to get published."
Me Why? Because it accuses too many people of crime?
Him Yes, as I said to the parliamentary commission, Coulson knew all about it and regularly ordered it . . . He [Coulson] rose quickly to the top; he wanted to cover his tracks all the time. So he wouldn't just write a story about a celeb who'd done something. He'd want to make sure they could never sue, so he wanted us to hear the celeb like you on tape saying, "Hello, darling, we had lovely sex last night." So that's on tape - OK, we've got that and so we can publish . . . Historically, the way it went was, in the early days of mobiles, we all had analogue mobiles and that was an absolute joy. You know, you just . . . sat outside Buckingham Palace with a £59 scanner you bought at Argos and get Prince Charles and everything he said.
Me Is that how the Squidgy tapes [of Diana's phone conversations] came out? Which was put down to radio hams, but was in fact . . .
Him Paps in the back of a van, yes . . . I mean, politicians were dropping like flies in the Nineties because it was so easy to get stuff on them. And, obviously, less easy to justify is celebrities. But yes.
Me And . . . it wasn't just the News of the World. It was , you know - the Mail?
Him Oh absolutely, yeah. When I went freelance in 2004 the biggest payers - you'd have thought it would be the NoW, but actually it was the Daily Mail. If I take a good picture, the first person I go to is - such as in your case - the Mail on Sunday. Did you see that story? The picture of you, breaking down . . . I ought to thank you for that. I got £3,000. Whooo!
Me But would they [the Mail] buy a phone-hacked story?
Him For about four or five years they've absolutely been cleaner than clean. And before that they weren't. They were as dirty as anyone . . . They had the most money.
Me So everyone knew? I mean, would Rebekah Wade have known all this stuff was going on?
Him Good question. You're not taping, are you?
Me [slightly shrill voice] No.
Him Well, yeah. Clearly she . . . took over the job of [a journalist] who had a scanner who was trying to sell it to members of his own department. But it wasn't a big crime. [NB: Rebekah Brooks has always denied any knowledge of phone-hacking. The current police investigation is into events that took place after her editorship of the News of the World.]
It started off as fun - you know, it wasn't against the law, so why wouldn't you? And it was only because the MPs who were fiddling their expenses and being generally corrupt kept getting caught so much they changed the law in 2001 to make it illegal to buy and sell a digital scanner. So all we were left with was - you know - finding a blag to get your mobile [records] out of someone at Vodafone. Or, when someone's got it, other people swap things for it.
Me So they all knew? Wade probably knew all about it all?
Him [...] Cameron must have known - that's the bigger scandal. He had to jump into bed with Murdoch as everyone had, starting with Thatcher in the Seventies . . . Tony Blair . . . [tape is hard to hear here] Maggie openly courted Murdoch, saying, you know, "Please support me." So when Cameron, when it came his turn to go to Murdoch via Rebekah Wade . . . Cameron went horse riding regularly with Rebekah. I know, because as well as doorstepping celebrities, I've also doorstepped my ex-boss by hiding in the bushes, waiting for her to come past with Cameron on a horse . . . before the election to show that - you know - Murdoch was backing Cameron.
Me What happened to that story?
Him The Guardian paid for me to do it and I stepped in it and missed them, basically. They'd gone past - not as good as having a picture.
Me Do you think Murdoch knew about phone-hacking?
Him Errr, possibly not. He's a funny bloke given that he owns the Sun and the Screws . . . quite puritanical. Sorry to talk about Divine Brown, but when that came out . . . Murdoch was furious: "What are you putting that on our front page for? You're bringing down the tone of our papers." [Indicating himself] That's what we do over here.
Me Well, it's also because it was his film I was about to come out in.
Him Oh. I see.
Me Yeah. It was a Fox film.
[A pause here while we chat to other customers, and then - ]
Him So anyway, let me finish my story.
Me Murdoch, yes . . .
Him So I was sent to do a feature on Moulin Rouge! at Cannes, which was a great send anyway. Basically my brief was to see who Nicole Kidman was shagging - what she was doing, poking through her bins and get some stuff on her. So Murdoch's paying her five million quid to big up the French and at the same time paying me £5.50 to fuck her up . . . So all hail the master. We're just pawns in his game. How perverse is that?
Me Wow. You reckon he never knew about it?
Him [pause] I don't even think he really worried himself too much about it.
Me What's his son called?
Him James. They're all mates together. They all go horse riding. You've got Jeremy Clarkson lives here [in Oxfordshire]. Cameron lives here, and Rebekah Wade is married to Brooks's son [the former racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks]. Cameron gets dressed up as the Stig to go to Clarkson's 50th birthday party [NB: it was actually to record a video message for the party]. Is that demeaning for a prime minister? It should be the other way round, shouldn't it? So basically, Cameron is very much in debt to Rebekah Wade for helping him not quite win the election . . . So that was my submission to parliament - that Cameron's either a liar or an idiot.
Me But don't you think that all these prime ministers deliberately try to get the police to drag their feet about investigating the whole [phone-hacking] thing because they don't want to upset Murdoch?
Him Yeah. There's that . . . You also work a lot with policemen as well . . . One of the early stories was [and here he names a much-loved TV actress in her sixties] used to be a street walker - whether or not she was, but that's the tip.
Me and Chum MLTVA?!
Me I can't believe it. Oh no!
Chum Really??
Him Yeah. Well, not now . . .
Chum Oh, it'd be so much better if it was now.
Him So I asked a copper to get his hands on the phone files, but because it's only a caution it's not there any more. So that's the tip . . . it's a policeman ringing up a tabloid reporter and asking him for ten grand because this girl had been cautioned right at the start of his career. And then I ask another policemen to go and check the records . . . So that's happening regularly. So the police don't particularly want to investigate.
Me But do you think they're going to have to now?
Him I mean - 20 per cent of the Met has taken backhanders from tabloid hacks. So why would they want to open up that can of worms? . . . And what's wrong with that, anyway? It doesn't hurt anyone particularly. I mean, it could hurt someone's career - but isn't that the dance with the devil you have to play?
Me Well, I suppose the fact that they're dragging their feet while investigating a mass of phone-hacking - which is a crime - some people would think is a bit depressing about the police.
Him But then - should it be a crime? I mean, scanning never used to be a crime. Why should it be? You're transmitting your thoughts and your voice over the airwaves. How can you not expect someone to just stick up an aerial and listen in?
Me So if someone was on a landline and you had a way of tapping in . . .
Him Much harder to do.
Me But if you could, would you think that was illegal? Do you think that should be illegal?
Him I'd have to say quite possibly, yeah. I'd say that should be illegal.
Me But a mobile phone - a digital phone . . . you'd say it'd be all right to tap that?
Him I'm not sure about that. So we went from a point where anyone could listen in to anything. Like you, me, journalists could listen in to corrupt politicians, and this is why we have a reasonably fair society and a not particularly corrupt or criminal prime minister, whereas other countries have Gaddafi. Do you think it's right the only person with a decent digital scanner these days is the government? Whereas 20 years ago we all had a go? Are you comfortable that the only people who can listen in to you now are - is it MI5 or MI6?
Me I'd rather no one listened in, to be honest. And I might not be alone there. You probably wouldn't want people listening to your conversations.
Him I'm not interesting enough for anyone to want to listen in.
Me Ah . . . I think that was one of the questions asked last week at one of the parliamentary committees. They asked Yates [John Yates, acting deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police] if it was true that he thought that the NoW had been hacking the phones of friends and family of those girls who were murdered . . . the Soham murder and the Milly girl [Milly Dowler].
Him Yeah. Yeah. It's more than likely. Yeah . . . It was quite routine. Yeah - friends and family is something that's not as easy to justify as the other things.
Me But celebrities you would justify because they're rich?
Him Yeah. I mean, if you don't like it, you've just got to get off the stage. It'll do wonders.
Me So I should have given up acting?
Him If you live off your image, you can't really complain about someone . . .
Me I live off my acting. Which is different to living off your image.
Him Yeah, but you're still presenting yourself to the public. And if the public didn't know you -
Me They don't give a shit. I got arrested with a hooker and they still came to my films. They don't give a fuck about your public image. They just care about whether you're in an entertaining film or not.
Him That's true . . . I have terrible difficulty with him [points to pap shot of Johnny Depp]. He's really difficult. You know, I was in Venice and he was a nightmare to do because he walks around looking like Michael Jackson. And the punchline was . . . after leading everyone a merry dance the film was shot on an open balcony - I mean, it was like - he was standing there in public.
Me And you don't see the difference between the two situations?
Chum He was actually working at this time? As opposed to having his own private time?
Him You can't hide all the time.
Me So you're saying, if you're Johnny Depp or me, you don't deserve to have a private life?
Him You make so much more money. You know, most people in Dover take home about £200 and struggle.
Me So how much do you think the families of the Milly and Soham girls make?
Him OK, so there are examples that are poor and you can't justify - and that's clearly one of them.
Me I tell you the thing I still don't get - if you think it was all right to do all that stuff, why blow the whistle on it?
Him Errm . . . Right. That's interesting. I actually blew the whistle when a friend of mine at the Guardian kept hassling me for an interview. I said, "Well if you put the name of the Castle [his pub] on the front page of the Guardian, I'll do anything you like." So that's how it started.
Me So, have you been leant on by the NoW, News International, since you blew the whistle?
Him No, they've kept their distance. I mean, there's people who have much better records - my records are non-existent. There are people who actually have tapes and transcripts they did for Andy Coulson.
Me And where are these tapes and transcripts? Do you think they've been destroyed?
Him No, I'm sure they're saving them till they retire.
Me So did you personally ever listen to my voice messages?
Him No, I didn't personally ever listen to your voice messages. I did quite a lot of stories on you, though. You were a very good earner at times.

Those are the highlights. As I drove home past the white cliffs, I thought it was interesting - apart from the fact that Paul hates people like me, and I hate people like him, we got on quite well. And, absurdly, I felt a bit guilty for recording him.

And he does have a very nice pub. The Castle Inn, Dover, for the record. There are rooms available, too. He asked me if I'd like to sample the honeymoon suite some time: "I can guarantee your privacy."

-- Listen to the audio now --

This article first appeared in the 11 April 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Jemima Khan guest edit

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How can women fight the gender pay gap?

The pay gap in Britain stands at 18 per cent – and research shows it's not women's fault. I catch up with five women who successfuly negotiated a higher salary.

Happy Equal Pay Day! We’ve waited a long time for this, ladies – 86.1 per cent of the year, to be exact – but the big day is finally here. Party hats are expensive, so let's all grab a piece of printer paper and Google some origami.

Equal Pay Day is an initiative of the Fawcett Society, an organisation dedicated to helping bring about women’s economic equality with men. Its date is determined by the current pay gap, so that the number of days until the end of the year is representative of gender pay disparity. Or, to put it another way: from today, women are effectively working for free for the rest of the year.

The good news is that this year, Equal Pay Day moved from November 9 to November 10. The bad news? Well, get out your calendars and see how long it is until December 31. That’s a lot of days to gaze up, symbolically wageless, at the rain-drenched Oxford Street Christmas lights. (I like to pretend to be a Victorian street child from a Charles Dickens novel while I do this: “Please, sir, may I have some more net income?”)

Okay, that’s being a bit dramatic. After all, women aren’t entirely powerless when it comes to pay. In Iceland, on 24 October, 1975, women protested, among other things, a devaluing of their labour. They not only refused to go to work, but also refused to perform domestic tasks like cooking, cleaning and childcare; tasks that are traditionally unwaged, but contribute substantially to the economy. The next year, Iceland passed a law guaranteeing equal rights for women.

Every ten years since, Icelandic women have stopped work early for a day, to protest the continuing pay gap, which unfortunately still stands at 14 per cent.

This year, British magazine Stylist has taken inspiration from the Icelandic women, encouraging women to leave work 18 per cent early today to protest in kind. They write:

“Of course, we’re not suggesting a few hours off work compensates for what is, without doubt, a far bigger issue. Our #equalpayday initiative is a simple but symbolic gesture; highlighting the contribution of women and raising awareness of one of the most important economic issues of the day. After all, closing the gender pay gap could add £150bn to the UK’s GDP alone. Not to mention the benefit to both sexes of ensuring your work is equally valued.”

It’s a great idea. But what do you do if you can’t leave work early – like if you’re a shift worker in emergency services or care, or if you freelance?

Well, one thing you can do is ask for a raise. But what happens if your boss says no? A recent study from the University of Warwick, after all, showed that one thing previously blamed for the pay gap – that women don’t ask for more money – in fact wasn’t actually responsible. It turns out, women do ask. They just don’t get. “Having seen these findings,” the study’s co-author Andrew Oswaled said, “I think we have to accept that there is some element of pure discrimination against women.”

But that’s no reason not to try. You never know: you might be successful. These women were.


Design, 39

The job advertised a salary range of £50-60k. My instinct was to ask for £54k and to expect to be given £51k. My boyfriend at the time (ten years older, in his mid-40s and professionally very successful and quite an aggressive negotiator) told me to ask for £65k. After protesting and telling him that's totally ridiculous, he convinced me to try.

We put together a pitch for why I'm worth it. It wasn’t ridiculous at all: when I wrote it all down my experience looked really quite good, plus I had another job offer as a bargaining tool.

When I say I put together a pitch, I mean I wrote it down and then memorised it – word for word. And then I practised the pitch in front of a mirror at least 20 times. Each time I got more comfortable with it.

I then had the salary negotiation meeting with my current line manager. I was hugely relieved she was on my side because I had bad experience with other women in previous jobs; they can be our worst enemy!

The meeting flowed, I told her why I think I'm worth £65k, word for word from my script. She said she can't go over the band on offer (I'm employed by a government institution) but offered me £60k. I found out a couple of months later than my male colleague who went for the same band job didn't negotiate and they started him on the lowest rung. Everyone is rubbish at negotiating salaries but I think it's fair to say women are much worse than men.

What would be your advice to women going into negotiations?

To do what I did when negotiating starting salary. Very few people do it. Very few people prepare to negotiate – men and women. They think of a couple of points they want to make and without practice (writing it down, reading it out loud, etc) inevitably don't do themselves justice when they come face to face with the boss.

Insurance (now in the public sector), 30

On a work night out, one colleague who had recently started at the insurance company I worked for, was rather drunk and told me what she earned, which was £2.5k more than me. She'd been with the company one month, whereas I'd been working there (rather grumpily) for nearly two years and was handling quite complex cases, still on my starting wage. I approached my manager about this and went from there.

Was your boss amenable, or did you have to fight?

I got on really well, personally, with my boss so I had no problem approaching her. She confirmed that she was aware of the disparity between pay, but couldn't do much about it. I had countless meetings with her about it, and, when she realised I wouldn't let it go, arranged with senior management to have my pay brought up to the same level as the new starts. This was under the assurance that I wouldn't tell anyone else as they couldn't do this across the board.

I felt pretty uncomfortable about the whole thing, as I knew how unfair it was. However, quite soon after this I fell seriously unwell and ended up on sick leave for two years before packing it in – the one benefit to working for an insurance company were the sick benefits (can you tell I hated my job?!)

Why do you think the gender pay gap is still so large?

To be honest, I really cannot understand why there is a gender pay gap at all. Does it really come down to the company wanting to invest in a man as they feel he's more "reliable" – eg. won't take maternity leave, won't then ask to work part time – or is it just because they can get away with it, as some women won't ask? Sometimes, for a guy in the same position, he's seen as determined. For a woman, she's seen as up as herself.

Journalism, 27

How did you go into negotiations?

I chose a time when there was a lot of disruption at the company – they'd just laid people off, including my direct manager. I suppose it was a bit risky but I knew they would have already got rid of me if they didn't want me so I felt empowered. I asked to have a word the next day and I said I felt shaken up by the changes and felt like I would feel more secure if I were paid more. I only asked for a small pay increase

Why do you think the gender pay gap is still so large?

It's not that men tend to earn more doing the same job, it's that they rise to higher positions. When I first started working, all my female friends earned more than their partners – largely they worked harder at uni, got better jobs, were more ambitious. But in most cases the men now earn more in our late 20s, early 30s. I think men are being groomed for management at this age, more than women, because men are not expected to leave the workplace. None of my friends even have children yet but there's a definite sense that they're perceived as being pre-baby. The stats seem to back this up too as the age where men start to out-earn women. Most bosses are men and they tend to encourage people in their own image.

Also, anecdotally, I've noticed men often feel entitled to get a pay rise every year just for existing in their job, whereas women don't.

What would be your advice to women going into negotiations?

Try and negotiate with the person who is actually responsible for issuing the pay rise and if not, explicitly ask your manager to have your back and fight for you. Choose the time well if you can, ideally just after you've done something particularly good.

Media, 20s

Both times I negotiated my salary it was prior to beginning my position. Through my working experience, I have found it much easier to enter on as high a salary as possible as it becomes very difficult to negotiate meaningful gains once in a job.

I think the gender pay gap is massive for a few reasons, but I don’t actually think it comes down to women not negotiating their salaries. I think a lot of women actually do this, if not at their first job, at later jobs. Women may go in asking for less, because they are less overt about their value, which is why I think you should always ask for more than you even think you deserve.

Was your boss amenable, or did you have to fight? (If you think it's relevant: what gender was your boss?)

My boss is a woman, and the negotiations were actually much tougher than when I had negotiated with men. A lot was expected of me and they made it seem as though I was being really tough. They questioned how much I really "wanted" the job, and implied I was slightly unreasonable in terms of how much I was willing to budge. This is part of the game I believe, and obviously, from the result, I was not.

What would be your advice to women going into negotiations?

The experience showed me a few things. The first was that: salary negotiation is uncomfortable and risky but worth the fight. I am not naturally good at confrontational negotiations, but I think in these situations you have to "fake it till you make it" a bit.  

In order to get what I wanted I had to do research, I had to be strategic about how much I asked for, knowing they would knock it down, and I had to show that I would not take the job and was willing to walk away if I didn’t get a reasonable offer. That was really the riskiest, but most effective, thing for me. Also, thinking of ways you can negotiate with benefits as opposed to direct income increases I have found really effective at the start. In the end, the salary you enter a company on is your biggest opportunity to get a significant raise as things get much tougher when you are in. Make it count.

Senior Management, education sector, 36

I work in education, my boss left and I was offered the "opportunity" to take on his role in an interim basis. Was offered an insulting pay rise. Fought for more, and got it, but it was a shame that I had to be pretty aggressive about it, rather than just my work, achievements and experience being enough "proof" that I deserved it.

Journalism, 28

How did you go into negotiations?

My one-year review was coming up, and I knew that, in asking for a pay rise, I would be asked to account for how my value to the publication had increased over the past 12 months, so I started building my case around that. A colleague from the commercial team offered to help, and made me a list of specific deals he wouldn’t have landed without my input. That enabled me to back up the increase I was asking for with figures showing how I benefited the company financially. It wasn’t an approach I liked particularly, but I thought that in a very male-dominated, bottom-line driven place it was my best chance of success.

Was your boss amenable, or did you have to fight?

There were no other women in my review meeting, nor in any supervisory positions at the company. My boss tried to stop me making my case for a proper rise by immediately offering a very small increase (£250 on my annual salary). This made me really angry – I started shaking and somehow managed to say in a level tone of voice: “Thank you for your offer, but I think you can do better.” After listening to the case I had prepared, my boss said he would think about it over the weekend, and then came back with an offer that was thousands of pounds higher.

What would be your advice to women going into negotiations?

Be incredibly well prepared. Bring as much data as you can gather that demonstrates how much of an asset you are, and wherever possible express it in terms of amounts of money. Feeling passionate about the fact that you are worth more than they are paying you is a good starting point, but it’s much harder for a boss to dismiss you if you come armed with figures as well as words. On top of that, be ready to make all the running in the conversation (it’s not in their interests to make it easy for you to ask). Be prepared to do the hardest thing of all – disagree with the person who is in charge of you. If they say “this is the best we can offer you”, you have to be ready to say: “I disagree, and these figures show that I’m right and you’re wrong”.

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland