street of shame

Silly buggers latest
Barclay v Barclay , Issue 1522

JUST before the case of Barclay v Barclay returned to the high court two weeks ago, the Eye asked whether the Daily Telegraph might at last deign to mention the astonishing family fight between its co-owner Sir Frederick Barclay and its chairman Aidan Barclay, his nephew, plus a gaggle of other weirdo Barclays.

ROOM SERVICE: CCTV footage showing Alistair Barclay, nephew of Sir Frederick, allegedly handling a bugging device at the Ritz

As if stung by the comment, editor Chris Evans dispatched a hack to the virtual press bench that morning, via Microsoft Teams – but then decided there was nothing worth writing about.

Which is surprising, given that the Barclay bust-up makes the TV drama Succession look like a documentary. “This was commercial espionage on a vast scale,” said counsel for Sir Frederick and his daughter Amanda. He was referring to the covert recording of their conversations in the Ritz Hotel, including discussions with their lawyers and business associates. Counsel for the rival Barclays, by contrast, dismissed the case as a “dispute between family members which the defendants consider it is unfortunate to have canvassed in public”.

The snooping came to light on 13 January, when Alistair Barclay, youngest son of Sir Frederick’s twin brother Sir David, was filmed adjusting a bugging device in the Ritz conservatory. Sir Frederick and Amanda are suing the brothers Alistair, Aidan and Howard, plus Aidan’s son Andrew, for misuse of private information and breach of confidence.

Sir Frederick “had placed great trust in two of his nephews [Aidan and Howard] to run the business empire that he has built with his brother,” his counsel said. “He is a man who is now left to contemplate his nephews’ betrayal and a father who has witnessed the prejudicial treatment of his daughter by her cousins.”

The bugged Barclays say the nephews “derived significant financial and commercial advantage from the unlawful use of the recordings”. The eavesdropping was done at a time of “significant ongoing disputes between the parties concerning, among other things, the sale of the Ritz Hotel, the financial performance and management of the group”. By listening in, the other Barclays “were able to anticipate the claimants’ every move in advance, plan their business strategy around that”. The court heard that the four of them had “established a WhatsApp group to discuss the use of dissemination of the covert recordings”.

‘Separate wifi bug’
Thus the snoopers “obtained knowledge of [Sir Fred’s] conversations with Sidra Capital, which at the time had made an initial offer of some £1.3bn for the acquisition of the Ritz Hotel”. They also recorded “extensive discussions with a Russian businessman relating to an acquisition”. When Aidan saw that transcript he sent a WhatsApp note to Alistair: “Good. Now I’ve got something to shoot at and an opportunity.”

The recordings – which Alistair and Aidan coyly referred to as “podcasts” in their private WhatsApp messages – captured “over 1,000 separate conversations over a period of months”, the court heard. A “separate WiFi bug” was also used, which had been supplied by Quest Global Ltd, the private investigations firm run by former Metropolitan Police commissioner Lord Stevens. Quest invoiced for 405 hours of time listening to and transcribing recordings of Sir Fred et al.

Is this a seemly way for erstwhile police chiefs to earn a living? Indeed, might the current Knacker of the Yard take an interest in the case? Placing a hidden microphone in the Ritz to pick up sound was not on the face of it a criminal offence, if the eavesdroppers weren’t bugging phone calls or hacking into computers. But the details emerging about Quest’s WiFi could change that, a legal source observes, “as this is where it is connected to the telecommunications system”.

For the moment, however, it’s purely a civil action. In February, Sir Frederick and Amanda applied to the high court for a “doorstep delivery order” obliging the other Barclays to hand over all their ill-gotten tapes and transcripts. But the buggers claimed “legal professional privilege” – saying, for example, that their own “annotations and highlighting” of certain passages in the transcripts somehow gave them privileged protection.

At a February hearing the judge said these arguments were “at the margins of what is fanciful”. Even so, an independent “supervising solicitor” was given the task of going through the recordings (whose transcripts run to more than 2,800 pages) and assess how privileged any of the material was. The nephews continued to resist and haggle right up until the night before the latest hearing – when they suddenly dropped almost all their objections.

This led to a major row about costs. Hefin Rees QC, counsel for Sir Fred and Amanda, said it had been obvious all along that the claims to privilege were “utterly hopeless” – a contrivance to delay the inevitable at vast expense. For the nephews, Heather Rogers QC disputed the word “claims”, saying the privilege issue had merely been “floated, not definitively asserted”. These artful semantics got short shrift from the judge, who said her privilege claims “are legally unsustainable. That cannot realistically be contested, in the light of the history. At any rate, it is a matter of law”. He ordered the Barclay nephews to pay Sir Fred’s and Amanda’s costs.

The case itself may go to trial in November, virus permitting. The nephews have not yet submitted their defence – whatever on earth that might be.

‘Clandestine listening’

PS: Sir Frederick’s lawyer noted “a singular feature of the present case”: the very things that gave rise to the eavesdroppers’ privilege claims, ie the secret recordings, were actually full of privileged information from their victims, “including discussions with trust lawyers and divorce lawyers”. The irony was redoubled when the PA news agency, supported by the Eye, applied for release of the smoking-gun CCTV footage that showed Alistair Barclay fixing the bug at the Ritz. With jaw-dropping chutzpah, Rogers argued on Alistair’s behalf that releasing the video of him in the process of invading someone’s privacy would breach his own right to, er, privacy under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act. Alas for her, Sir Fred unilaterally released the footage this week anyway.

PPS: In his evidence to the Leveson inquiry in 2012, Telegraph chairman Aidan Barclay said he insisted on “the highest ethical standards by those working in our newspapers. Respect for the law and for the PCC code are enshrined in the contracts of employment of staff… we seek to uphold those standards to the letter and in the spirit”. That would be the PCC code which declared: “The press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices…”

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As unaccountable briefers bend favoured hacks’ ears, the gulf widens between newspaper predictions and what the government actually ends up announcing.

Much of the government’s £35m “All in, all together” ad budget has gone to publishing’s plumpest fat cats, while smaller independents miss out.

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The Mail was quick to condemn “shameless opportunists” selling PPE at vastly inflated prices – but also carried price-gouging ads in the paper that very day.

“We seem to have become a nation of scaredy-cats,” writes Toby Young – whose own wife recently told the world he is “a complete hypochondriac”.

Private Eye Issue 1522
In This Issue
Stay Awake, Control Your Hair, Take the Dog for a Walk: The PM’s TV address in full… Jubilation as Britain wins Eurovirus Contest… Nationwide shortage of tiny violins as Rich List reveals UK billionaires ‘lost some money’… ‘Clap responsibly’ urge hand experts on NHS Thursdays… Crucial supplies of patience, humour and conversation run out as UK enters lockdown Week 94… Simon Heffer: What to read in lockdown, as told to Craig Brown

Brief lies
The papers and the PM at odds

World of Sport
A Fifa farce in Lausanne

Pandemic latest
Risk in the time of Corona

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2nd June 2020
Private Eye Issue 1521